Butcher hails ‘fantastic’ team effort after podium charge at Croft
Rory Butcher has paid tribute to ‘a fantastic effort’ by the entire Toyota GAZOO Racing UK crew in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Croft last weekend (25/26 June), after converting a difficult qualifying into a race day celebration with a podium finish in the finale.
Inside the top three in both free practice sessions around the challenging North Yorkshire circuit, Butcher looked to be a sure-fire bet for a strong grid position in qualifying but ultimately had to settle for a frustrated 11th, barely a third-of-a-second shy of the top spot and lamenting a few small errors that denied him a berth towards the sharp end of the field.
In front of live ITV4 television cameras and the trackside crowd the next day, an aggressive and assertive opening lap in the curtain-raising contest – the British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport’s 100th BTCC start – saw the Scot immediately improve four positions as he boldly held his nerve around the outside of the first complex of corners. Thereafter, Butcher kept defending title-holder Ash Sutton honest to the end for a strong seventh-place finish.
The 35-year-old Kirkcaldy native – a former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner in the UK’s premier motor racing series – replicated that result in race two before lining up sixth on the partially-reversed grid for the third and final encounter.
Another confident start gained him three spots straightaway, and following an entertaining early duel with Josh Cook just ahead – briefly snatching second place but not quite managing to make the move stick – Butcher concluded his weekend’s work with a well-deserved third rostrum visit of the campaign, elevating him to sixth in the Drivers’ Standings.
In the sister Speedworks Motorsport-run Corolla, team-mate Ricky Collard got swiftly back into the groove on his first appearance at Croft since 2015, making consistent progress throughout free practice and winding up less than two tenths-of-a-second further back from Butcher in qualifying, which left him 16th on the grid amongst the 28 high-calibre contenders.
Similarly the architect of an outstanding first lap in the opener – bravely leaving his braking as late as he dared on the outside line approaching the circuit’s tight Turn One – the 25-year-old Surrey-born star thereafter ran assuredly in 12th position and looked primed to add to his season’s points tally until a late puncture sent him peeling for the pits. That misfortune restricted Collard to a lowly 24th on the grid for the second bout, but he had fought his way into the top 20 when another puncture prompted an unscheduled pit-stop and transformed his race into a glorified test session.
In the finale, tyre troubles would again prove to be his nemesis, as the third-generation racer picked up six spots on the opening lap and went on to threaten a points-paying finish until overheating issues obliged him to ease off the gas and a third puncture in as many starts – this time almost within sight of the chequered flag – relegated him to 18th.
Collard nonetheless took a great deal of encouragement from the learnings made over the weekend as a whole, and after a five-week summer break, he and Butcher will return to the fray for the sixth outing on the 2022 BTCC schedule at the latter’s home track of Knockhill at the end of July.
“Croft is a circuit of two halves that require different attributes from the car,” said Butcher. “You really have to focus on traction in the slow-speed sections, but through the high-speed middle sector of the lap, you need a car that is stable and rotates well to enable you to attack. Right from the outset, the Corolla felt very strong, but having shown so much potential in free practice, we were really deflated after qualifying. I didn’t manage to hook it up and when the times are so close, if you leave even just a tenth-of-a-second on the table, it’s going to cost you.
“Starting down in 11th, it was all about chipping away, making up places where we could and bagging the points. I had no choice but to take a few risks in race one – since it’s not easy to overtake at Croft, you really need to make the most of the first lap – and we emerged from Turn Two in seventh. I established a large gap behind and was quite happy following Sutton and looking for opportunities, but then the safety car came out and from that point on, I had to keep one eye in my mirrors as well, which spoiled our momentum so I concentrated on bringing it home.
“That put us in amongst all the really quick guys in race two, while the reversed grid race as always shook everything up a bit. Starting sixth, the podium was my goal and it was brilliant to achieve that. I had a little go at Josh [Cook] into Tower early on; I’d been thinking about it for a couple of laps, but he’s pretty smart and he just let it happen before getting the cutback on the exit. After that, the race levelled out a bit, and I also had [Stephen] Jelley on my tail putting the pressure on, so I had to defend from him at the same time.
“We kept on pushing right to the end and overall, I was really pleased with the consistency we showed again with another three solid finishes. To score such good points and spray some champagne after a tough qualifying was a fantastic effort by the whole team, and means we end the first half of the season on a high.”
“It honestly seems like if I didn’t have bad luck at the moment, I wouldn’t have any luck at all,” added Collard. “The Corolla felt good at Croft, and while I never really got the lap together in qualifying, race one was going well. I’ve been working hard on my starts – my old man was a bit of a legend at getting the car off the line and he gave me some useful advice – and I was comfortably holding position just outside the top ten until we picked up the puncture. That was a real shame, as it felt like we were really in the mix.
“After going a lap down in the next one, we had nothing to lose so decided that in addition to replacing the tyre, we would make some big set-up changes and evaluate them to ensure we still gleaned something from the race, and that really paid off.
“I’ve got to say, if we’d started the weekend with the car we had after race two, I have no doubt we’d have been much further up the order. In the last race, the Toyota was absolutely on rails but then unfortunately the engine began overheating and it wasn’t worth risking blowing it up for the sake of just a few points, so I backed off.
“Still, we now have a really good set-up that we can carry forward with us, and I think that leaves us in a very strong position heading into the second half of the season. We’re continuing to move in the right direction, and I’m getting quicker every time I climb into the Corolla. The Speedworks guys and girls have done an epic job in helping me to get to grips with front wheel-drive, and I feel really at home inside the team. I’m very sure the results will come.”