BUTCHER RACES TO ROSTRUM TO KICK-START CAMPAIGN AT BRANDS HATCH
Following a troubled Donington Park curtain-raiser, Toyota GAZOO Racing UK got its 2022 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship challenge underway in style at Brands Hatch last weekend (14/15 May), as Rory Butcher produced a crowd-pleasing performance to tally the team’s first podium finish of the season.
Despite being hampered by starter motor issues in free practice, Butcher hustled his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport to ninth spot amongst the 29 high-calibre contenders in qualifying around the short Indy loop, barely a quarter-of-a-second away from pole position.
On a damp-but-drying track surface, the Scot was one of only two drivers in the field to plump for slick tyres ahead of race one, and while a spin on his way to the grid and another off-piste moment on the opening lap made him initially question his decision, his bold choice would ultimately prove to be the right one.
Inevitably tumbling to the tail-end of the order early on as he grappled for grip and had to give best to his wet tyre-shod rivals, by mid-distance, the conditions began turning in Butcher’s favour. From more than 25 seconds adrift of the lead at one stage, he scythed his way through, posting fastest lap after fastest lap to snatch fifth position from pole-sitter Colin Turkington on the final tour, only to run wide a handful of corners later and slip to seventh at the chequered flag.
In the day’s second contest – broadcast live on the main ITV channel – the former BTCC Independents’ Champion was the architect of a feisty first lap to rise to fourth, before displacing championship leader Tom Ingram at Druids. He subsequently engaged in entertaining scraps with Jake Hill and Dan Cammish, wowing the crowds with his late-braking brio en route to a rostrum result as he flashed across the finish line in the wheeltracks of the two leaders.
From tenth on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale, Butcher again excelled in the tricky conditions with another hard-charging drive. After fighting past a number of rivals, he proceeded to hassle Ingram right to the end, with fifth place elevating the 35-year-old from outside the top ten in the overall standings to seventh position.
In the sister Corolla, Ricky Collard – embarking upon his second weekend back in the UK’s premier motorsport series following a three-and-a-half-year absence – was unfortunately out of luck again. Engine gremlins limited the 25-year-old’s free practice time, but he nonetheless matched his more experienced team-mate for pace in qualifying and went on to secure 14th on the grid, barely a tenth-of-a-second shy of Butcher’s benchmark.
Turbo boost problems in the opening encounter left him to limp home a frustrated and unrepresentative 26th, from where he climbed to 17th in race two and would likely have threatened a points-paying finish but for contact. Collard then struggled for speed in race three but has vowed to come out fighting on home soil at Thruxton in just over a week’s time.
“That was a rollercoaster ride,” said Butcher. “Like at Donington, we ran into some technical dramas on Saturday, but we pieced together the three races on Sunday this time and I was so pleased to score some big points and bag our first podium of the season.
“Sitting on the grid ahead of race one, it was so warm and on the weather radar, it didn’t look like it was going to rain again, so we decided to take a punt on slicks. The thinking was that towards the end, the track would dry sufficiently for us to take advantage – although when we still weren’t even inside the top 20 at mid-distance, I feared we’d made the wrong call. After that, though, everything began to fall into place and over the last few laps, I really made hay.
“I think with another lap, things could have looked very different and despite my error at the end, we finished ahead of where we had started and made it exciting for everybody watching, so that was definite progress.
“I was really pleased with race two – it was fantastic for the whole team to take our first podium of the year. I got myself into the top five early on and had some good battles with the guys up at the front, especially Dan [Cammish] and Jake [Hill]. Considering we were practically last after the opening couple of laps in race one, it was great to come through to finish third in that one.
“We were super strong again in race three, and to top the weekend off with fifth place meant we all went home happy. Most encouragingly of all, the Corolla is feeling properly on-point and was quick in all conditions. We had no technical issues on race day, which meant we could think more about detail and strategy and take a few risks, and that clearly paid off. Ultimately, we’re here to fight for the championship, so our season starts now!”
“That was a really tough weekend for me – probably the worst of my career if I’m being honest,” admitted Collard. “I’ve never been to Brands Hatch Indy before and not finished on the podium, let alone not scored at all, so it was really difficult to get my head around. It just felt like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
“We had an engine problem in race one, which left us towards the back of the grid for race two and I picked up some contact coming through, which damaged the car slightly. In race three, we were simply lacking grip and we’re still not sure why.
“We need to really analyse the data and do our homework to figure out how things went so wrong. Yes, we were hampered by technical issues, but the team did everything they could to give me the best car possible and Rory obviously had a very strong weekend, which proves that the pace is there. We just need a clean run without any issues.
“We don’t have the answers yet – but rest assured we’ll be doing everything we can to get on top of it all before my home event at Thruxton next time out.”