TOYOTA GAZOO RACING UK ‘FOCUSSED ON MOVING FORWARD’
Toyota GAZOO Racing UK may have endured a bruising start to the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship’s new hybrid era at Donington Park (23/24 April), but drivers Rory Butcher and Ricky Collard are still confident that the Speedworks Motorsport-run outfit will once more be a force to be reckoned with over the course of the 2022 campaign.
Returning to the BTCC following a cameo appearance in the final four outings of 2018 – and having not contested a full season in anything since 2019 – Collard would line up a competitive 11th in qualifying amongst the 28 high-calibre contenders, but with stablemate Butcher unable to post a representative lap time due to driveshaft failure, the Scot was consigned to a frustrated 26th on the starting grid for the curtain-raising contest.
Undeterred, the former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner had made up no fewer than nine positions when he was caught out by a sudden safety car intervention heading onto lap two. As the field unexpectedly checked up, the unsighted Butcher – tucked in tight behind Ollie Jackson – had nowhere to go, with front end damage to his Corolla spelling an early bath.
The cause of the interruption, unfortunately, was Collard, whose car had stopped on the main straight. That left the Toyota duo to begin race two from down in 26th and 27th places, but in front of the live ITV4 television cameras, a host of enthusiastic supporters from nearby Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK) and the trackside crowd, the fired-up Butcher went on a charge.
After climbing into the points by the end of the opening tour – an astonishing 11-place gain on his starting slot – the 35-year-old produced a bold and committed performance to secure a top ten finish, and despite not benefitting from the reverse-grid draw, he then improved further to take the chequered flag seventh in race three, less than two seconds shy of the podium.
Collard’s luck did not change in race two, with the 25-year-old star rising to the cusp of the points before contact damaged the crash structure of his Corolla, but from the tail-end of the grid again, he determinedly fought his way to a 15th-place finish in the day’s finale, getting stuck back into the famous cut-and-thrust of the UK’s premier motor racing series as he opened his account for the season.
“That obviously wasn’t the start to the season that we wanted,” admitted Team Principal Christian Dick. “To see both cars retire from the first race was a nightmare scenario, but the Speedworks Motorsport boys and girls are amazing and while we had a mountain to climb from the back of the grid in race two, we quickly put our initial disappointment behind us and focussed on moving forward.
“For Rory to fight through to a top ten finish was incredible, and showed his strength of character in overcoming the misfortune of qualifying and race one. It was a superb effort and an excellent turnaround after his earlier adversity. He produced stunning opening laps in races two and three, and was rewarded with a couple of really solid points-scoring finishes.
“Following the failure in race one and contact in race two, for Ricky to battle into the points in race three was absolutely spot-on. Yes, we’ve got some details to work on with him, but he’s finding his feet in the car and in the championship after a couple of years away from full-time competition, and there are some quirks to racing a front-wheel drive car that he’s continuing to get his head around.
“There are no doubts in my mind about his raw pace, and quite honestly, I think we’ve got another superstar on our hands here. Once he’s fully in the groove, he’s going to be a real contender and I’m tremendously excited to see what he can achieve in the coming rounds. At the end of the day, this is a long championship and other people will have tough weekends too. We’re still in a very good place.”
“I was so disappointed at the end of qualifying,” said Butcher “The car felt really competitive – and it meant we were more at risk of getting caught up in incidents in race one, which unfortunately is exactly what happened. Following a stellar repair job by the Speedworks crew, the Corolla was mega in race two and we made up a lot of places early on again. The hybrid element was fun and definitely gives us more to think about, requiring a little bit of strategy with regard to when and where is best to deploy it.
“We put up another good fight in race three, and whilst I lost a little bit of performance in the closing laps, I was pleased to bring the car home in seventh and score some decent points. Clearly, we wanted a lot more than that from the weekend, but we can definitely move forward from here. Onwards and upwards!”
“It was a weekend that promised so much, but ultimately didn’t deliver,” reflected Collard. “The Corolla is a brilliant car, and I’ve been slowly getting the hang of it, with no pressure from the team. I kept plugging away, finding a little bit more and learning a little bit more with every run. In race one, I was just settling into my rhythm and got a good exit from the chicane going onto lap two, but unfortunately that was all she wrote. The driveshaft failure was sheer bad luck and completely out of our control.
“That obviously meant we didn’t begin race two where we’d been hoping to and we had to fight through the field again in race three, when it was good to finally get a full race distance under my belt. My racecraft was a little bit rusty, but the pace is there and at the end of the day, I’d rather be in this kind of position and able to attack instead of lucking into results. I’m still adapting to front-wheel drive and there’s a lot more I need to learn, but we will build upon this and I’m really looking forward to Brands Hatch.”