Brands Hatch beckons for trophy-chasing Toyota GAZOO Racing UK
Toyota GAZOO Racing UK has silverware in its sights in the second outing on the 2022 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship schedule at Brands Hatch this weekend (14/15 May), with drivers Rory Butcher and Ricky Collard vowing to approach the event ‘all guns blazing’.
Brands Hatch’s short Indy Circuit holds happy memories for the team, as the scene of Speedworks Motorsport’s breakthrough BTCC pole position and race win back in 2016. Since then, the Cheshire-based outfit has tallied a further two victories and four podium finishes there, with the British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport streaking to pole position in the 2020 season finale.
Butcher and Collard boast similarly strong form around the Indy Circuit. The 35-year-old – like Speedworks, a previous BTCC Independents’ Champion as well as a winner of the Jack Sears Trophy – triumphed at the track in both 2019 and 2020 and posted the fastest lap in race three last year, a performance he credited as the turning-point that paved the way to a trio of victories over the second half of the campaign.
Series returnee Collard has also sprayed the champagne at Brands Indy, winning there in MSA Formula in 2015 on his way to the runner-up spoils in the championship standings. The 25-year-old Surrey-born star was out of luck on race day at Donington Park last month, but P2 in second free practice amongst the 28 high-calibre contenders proved his raw pace, and a charging drive into the points from the wrong end of the grid in race three underscored his fighting spirit.
Both drivers will head into qualifying at Brands Hatch with the full 15 seconds of additional hybrid power at their disposal and firmly focussed on exploiting it to the max. That session will be broadcast on itv.com/btcc from 1545 on Saturday, with Sunday’s doorhandle-to-doorhandle action to be shown live and in high-definition on ITV4 between 1100-1355, before switching to ITV’s main channel from 1400-1700 and then back to ITV4 from 1655-1835.
“Although the results at Donington Park evidently didn’t live up to either our expectations or the potential we displayed, we nonetheless left in bullish mood that we are on the right path,” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “Rory made up no fewer than 16 positions in race two, while Ricky lit up the timing screens in free practice and proved his overtaking prowess in the day’s finale. On his first weekend in a front-wheel drive car, getting a full race distance under his belt was key, and he will be all the stronger for that at Brands Hatch.
“Donington was also the first time any of us in the BTCC had used hybrid power in a competitive situation, and it certainly added an extra element of strategy to the equation. We will need to take full advantage of the 15 seconds of ‘boost’ available to us in qualifying at Brands to put our two Corollas as far up the grid as possible.
“From there, the target will be three solid race finishes, and provided we can steer clear of drama, we know that both drivers and the car are more than capable of doing battle for the leading positions. The Indy Circuit is a track that has smiled upon us in the past, so we’ve got to be aiming for some silverware to really make our mark on the 2022 season and kick-start our title challenge.”
“There’s a common misconception that being such a short lap, there’s not that much to Brands Hatch Indy, but I would actually argue the opposite,” added Butcher. “Its compact nature makes it even more important to nail every single apex, because with the times always so close, even the smallest error is magnified and therein lies its greatest challenge.
“It has been a happy hunting ground for me in the past. I won the Formula Ford Festival there in 2009 and my first BTCC race in 2019, and it just seems to suit my style. We go back this year with a bit of a point to prove after not achieving what we wanted at Donington due to a failure in qualifying that was beyond our control, but we have an excellent package underneath us in the Toyota Corolla and a fantastic team spirit.
“One of the key differences with hybrid this season is that it has eradicated the up-and-down inevitability of race weekends that the success ballast system used to generate. Now, if you can start towards the front in race one, you have every possibility of scoring well in all three races – and that’s exactly what we intend to do at Brands Hatch.”
“I feel like we are in a good position to attack going to Brands Hatch,” proclaimed Collard. “When we got a trouble-free run at Donington, the Corolla showed really strong pace – especially in race trim. It’s particularly good on the brakes, which is very confidence-inspiring, and having to come from the back of the grid twice meant I at least got some solid overtaking practice in! For my first-ever race weekend in a front-wheel drive car, I learned a lot and, overall, we left with plenty of positives.
“Now, we’re fully focussed on Brands Hatch. Back when I was competing in MSA Formula, I remember going out for my first race of the day there and winning, and then my dad went out directly afterwards for the first BTCC race and also won, which is obviously a very special memory.
“I really enjoy the Indy Circuit – I love its undulating nature, how close it is and how the fans can see all the action – and I’ve always tended to go well there. Around such a short lap, qualifying will be crucial, and having the full complement of hybrid power available will be a huge benefit. I’m aiming to qualify inside the top five and finish all three races – and if we can sneak a podium along the way, that would just be the icing on the cake. I’m going there all guns blazing!”