Silverware celebrations for home hero Butcher
Rory Butcher produced a masterclass in defensive driving to hold off a four-time champion for a hugely popular home soil podium in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill last weekend (30/31 July), as Toyota Gazoo Racing UK team-mate Ricky Collard similarly tallied a trio of strong points-scoring finishes.
Hailing from less than 20 miles away in Kirkcaldy, Butcher is invariably a leading contender at Knockhill, and he duly qualified seventh-quickest amongst the 29 high-calibre protagonists behind the wheel of his British-built, Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Corolla GR Sport – a scant eight hundredths adrift of a row two berth and the second-best front-wheel drive car around a circuit renowned for favouring rear-wheel drive machinery.
In front of the live ITV television cameras and an eager trackside crowd the following day, the 35-year-old made a bright start in race one and went on to indulge in entertaining scraps with championship leader Tom Ingram and brother-in-law Gordon Shedden on his way to eighth at the chequered flag. He moved forward in race two to finish sixth, pulling off passes on George Gamble, Dan Cammish and Stephen Jelley along the way – before saving his best until last in the partially reversed grid finale.
After lining up on the front row, Butcher challenged Gamble for the lead as the top two initially pulled clear of the chasing pack – but as the race progressed, the former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner fell back into the clutches of marauding BMW duo Colin Turkington and Jake Hill.
Under tremendous pressure, he was forced to concede to Hill in the closing laps but successfully fended off multiple title-holders Turkington and Ash Sutton to secure his fourth rostrum result of the 2022 campaign – and fourth of his BTCC career at Knockhill – as he consolidated sixth spot in the Drivers’ Standings.
Returning from the summer break feeling revitalised, Collard celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday by topping the classification for the first time in the UK’s premier motor racing series in the second free practice session.
Whilst a spin and traffic in qualifying restricted him to a frustrated and unrepresentative 15th on the starting grid in the tightly-fought field, the Surrey-born star went immediately on the offensive in the curtain-raising contest, battling into the top ten by shortly after mid-distance. Still not done, he zeroed in on the three-way tussle over seventh ahead, ultimately crossing the finish line less than 0.4s behind Butcher in the sister Corolla.
Again running in tandem with his team-mate in the early stages of race two, Collard dropped back as his tyres faded but scored well in 11th, before finding himself elbowed aside on the opening lap of the finale, relegating the third-generation racer to 15th position, which nonetheless completed a points-paying hat-trick.
“The great thing about the BTCC is that, even after a challenging weekend, the reversed grid gives you a chance to turn things around and come away with a decent result,” said Butcher. “We had some issues with straight-line speed in free practice, but the guys worked flat-out between sessions to resolve that and the Toyota was back on-song for qualifying, when I felt we did a solid job to line up seventh.
“I then struggled a bit in race one, but we kept making set-up tweaks throughout the day that yielded improvements, and we definitely found something for race two. The car just came alive and I could feel the difference straight away – I was able to attack and make up places, which subsequently put us in a good position for the reversed grid draw.
“I gave George [Gamble] a hard time for as long as I could in race three, but with him being strong just where he needed to be, it was difficult to make inroads and I could never get a proper look-in. The Corolla was pretty hooked-up and I really enjoyed driving it, but we lost a bit of speed towards the end as the tyres dropped off and as soon as Colin [Turkington] latched onto my tail, George was able to get away.
“Over the last five laps, I had no hybrid so I had to dig really deep to try to hang on with a quadruple champion and the pole-sitter filling my mirrors – that was anything but easy! I gave it everything, and it always tastes extra sweet to finish on the podium in front of your home crowd, especially as it might be the only event some of my family, friends and sponsors get to attend all season. Ultimately, this trophy is for the team – they really did pull out all the stops, so it was nice to reward them with some silverware.”
“I felt relaxed going into the weekend, and our pace was really strong throughout,” added Collard. “Knockhill is all about cornering and bravery, and the Toyota Corolla was handling super well. It was great in FP2 to finally show what this car can do, what I can do and what the team can do, because we’ve known it’s been there all along.
“It was a shame we couldn’t convert that into a good grid position in qualifying. Traffic plays such a big part at Knockhill due to 29 cars all jostling for clean air around a very short lap. I got repeatedly held up, which was obviously frustrating and then just as the tyres really came in, the red flag appeared and I got called onto the weighbridge, which put me out of sync a little bit, so we certainly didn’t unlock our true potential there.
“I went into Sunday knowing I needed to be aggressive, and race one was probably my best so far this season. I actually lost a place off the line which gave me even more work to do, but the Corolla felt fantastic and despite the difficulty of overtaking at Knockhill, I managed to fight my way through, which was a lot of fun.
“I had to run on really old tyres in race two after flat-spotting a set with the spin in qualifying, which compromised our performance and made it more about survival than anything else. We were quick again in race three, but I got pushed off the circuit on the first lap, dropping me down the order. It was the standard reversed grid race shenanigans, and unfortunately, we were on the receiving end.
“Overall, though, I’m very happy. The team really deserved a good performance for all their hard work, and I think that’s what we delivered. Most encouragingly of all, I was able to consistently lap at pretty much the same pace as Rory around a track that he knows better than most – so now, we’ve just got to keep on pushing…”