‘HOPES ARE HIGH’ FOR TOYOTA GAZOO RACING AT OULTON PARK
The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship is bound for Oulton Park this weekend (11/12 June) for the fourth stop on its 2022 calendar, with Toyota GAZOO Racing UK targeting a repeat of last summer’s champagne celebration in Speedworks Motorsport’s ‘backyard’.
Despite being located less than ten miles away from Speedworks’ Northwich base, the Cheshire circuit has traditionally reserved some pretty rotten luck for the two-time winners of the BTCC Independent Teams’ title – until last year, that is, when Rory Butcher put those demons to bed in fine style.
Indeed, the Scot – similarly a former BTCC Independents’ Champion – is something of a specialist around Oulton’s undulating layout, having posted the fastest lap in the final race there in 2019 and pole position in 2020.
Butcher converted that advantage into victory the next day, before fighting his way from fourth on the grid into a lead he would not subsequently surrender last August to cement a commanding maiden triumph behind the wheel of Toyota GAZOO Racing UK’s British-built Corolla GR Sport. The 35-year-old Kirkcaldy native added a further two wins to his burgeoning CV later on in the campaign, and will be chasing career victory number ten this weekend.
Stablemate Ricky Collard has also excelled at Oulton in seasons past, notably beating current McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris to the top step of the rostrum there in the BTCC-supporting MSA Formula single-seater series in 2015.
Twelve months on, the 25-year-old Surrey-born star sped to pole position, fastest lap and a brace of lights-to-flag successes at the track en route to sealing the runner-up spot in the overall standings in BRDC British F3. He went on to claim a podium double at Oulton in the British GT Championship’s fiercely-disputed GT4 category in 2018, and while hamstrung by ill fortune thus far in 2022, Collard has nonetheless shown plenty of promise and pace on his BTCC return.
Following Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session at 1530 – broadcast on itv.com/btcc – Sunday’s doorhandle-to-doorhandle action will be shown live and in high-definition on ITV’s main channel from 1210, prior to switching to ITV4 at 1505.
“Moving on from a tough weekend at Thruxton and going back to the scene of my first win with the Toyota Corolla, hopes are high,” said Butcher. “That was a very special moment last year, and it was wonderful to see how much it meant to Christian, Amy [Dick – Team Manager] and the whole crew. I’m feeling really good in the Corolla right now, so hopefully we can deliver a similar result this time around.
“Oulton Park is unquestionably one of the country’s most iconic circuits, and somewhere I’ve enjoyed racing at throughout my career – right back to my very early days in Formula Ford. I just love the place; it’s such a varied track, with constant undulations and the contrast between its fast, flowing sections and the tight, technical nature of the Island Bend hairpin and Knickerbrook Chicane.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for drivers and teams, and it’s really hard to string together a perfect lap – everything needs to be absolutely spot on. Not only that but with it being so narrow, overtaking is tricky so exploiting the hybrid system will be key, especially exiting Island Bend going up Hill Top and climbing Clay Hill after the Knickerbrook Chicane, where I expect the extra power to be particularly effective.
“With that in mind, maximising free practice will be even more important than usual, since qualifying will be crucial. We need to try to get onto the front few rows of the grid in order to give ourselves a fighting chance in the races, because if we can get the most out of Saturday, Sunday will take care of itself.”
“Oulton Park is a fantastic track, and one I always enjoy going to,” added Collard. “It’s just so old-school and I love how close the barriers are – there’s very little margin for error. It might be a cliché to say it, but there really is a bit of a mini Nürburgring Nordschleife vibe to the place.
“My dad achieved a lot of good results at Oulton in the BTCC, and I seem to go well there too so I’m looking forward to tackling it in a touring car for the first time. It’s obviously a big weekend for the team, and hopefully we will benefit from a lot of ‘home’ support. I’ll certainly be out to put on an exciting show for all of our sponsors, suppliers and guests!
“With overtaking being so tough there, qualifying will be super important and that has to be our primary focus. I’m still learning how to extract the most out of the tyres over a single lap in a front-wheel drive car, but we’re getting there. At Donington, we secured a respectable grid position and then I was third-quickest through the first sector at Brands Hatch, so we know we have the speed.
“Despite the setbacks we’ve encountered so far this season, I remain positive and my mindset doesn’t change – we’ve just got to regroup and go again. What we need is a consistent weekend without any issues. The pieces of the puzzle are all very clearly there – now it’s a question of slotting them into the right places…”