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Butcher battles to top-six hat-trick at country’s fastest track

Rory Butcher produced a fighting performance in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton last weekend (27/28 August), overcoming a difficult qualifying session to scythe through the field to a set of top-six finishes for Toyota GAZOO Racing UK around the fastest circuit in the country.

During the BTCC’s second visit of the year to the high-speed Hampshire track, Butcher and team-mate Ricky Collard proved to be evenly matched from the outset as they posted times within barely a tenth-of-a-second of one another in the first free practice session, notwithstanding a wild ride across the grass for the latter at Church – the quickest corner in British motorsport – following a component failure.

Set-up issues subsequently left Butcher languishing towards the foot of the top 20 for much of the half-hour qualifying session, but the Scot dug deep in the closing stages to pull a lap out of the bag good enough for 12th place.

In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and an eager trackside crowd in the late summer sun, the former BTCC Independents’ Champion immediately launched himself up to eighth in the curtain-raising contest as he niftily navigated his way through a wild opening lap. With the bit between his teeth, he continued climbing to sixth at the chequered flag, before advancing another spot to claim fifth in race two.

From seventh on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale, Butcher gained a position at the start behind the wheel of his Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Corolla and briefly held fastest lap as he battled past Daniel Rowbottom and title contender Tom Ingram. Thereafter, the 35-year-old settled into a tense three-way tussle for the bottom step of the podium with Stephen Jelley and Ash Sutton, getting his elbows out to withstand the pressure applied by the defending champion to seal a fine fourth-place finish.

At his home circuit, Collard put his early ‘moment’ at Church behind him to secure a second consecutive top-ten grid slot in qualifying amongst the 29 high-calibre contenders in the UK’s premier motor racing series. He was running ninth on the first lap of race one – right in the wheel tracks of Butcher’s sister Toyota – when a clash with Ash Hand at the chicane sent both cars sliding sideways and set off a sequence of events that dropped him to the tail end of the field, from where he recovered to 22nd at the flag.

The 26-year-old found himself in the wars again in race two as he got caught up in a number of duels – one of which prompted a spectacular save – but he resolutely refused to lie down without a fight and snatched the final point on offer for 15th place on the last lap. He completed his weekend’s work with another points-paying finish in 13th in race three.

“For a weekend that began with an ‘off’ at the fastest corner in the country and a difficult qualifying session, to turn it around and come away with three strong top six finishes was an excellent effort by the whole team,” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “We struggled on Saturday to get the car to Rory’s liking – and Thruxton is somewhere that you need to be fully confident if you want to push to the limit – but we spent a lot of time looking into the reasons why and went into race day feeling much more optimistic about our prospects, which ultimately was borne out in the results.

“Rory drove three blinding races to move forward every time around a track where overtaking is never easy. Had he been able to start further up the grid, I have no doubt we would have been travelling home with some silverware as his pace was more than a match for the guys at the very front of the field.

“Ricky was understandably extremely keen to put on a good show with Thruxton being his home circuit, but he got a bit roughed up early on in race one and that unfortunately set the tone for the rest of his day. He certainly showed no lack of bravery or raw speed as he fought his way through the pack, and he will be right back up at the sharp end next time out at Silverstone, I have no doubt.”

“I’m really happy with that,” added Butcher. “After a disappointing Saturday, to come away with three top-six results on Sunday was the perfect response. I went to Thruxton in a positive frame of mind, so I was pretty down in the dumps after qualifying – we couldn’t quite get the balance right and I wasn’t feeling my usual confident self – but we had a bit of an internal pep talk, delved into the data and it all slotted into place on Sunday, which enabled us to come out fighting.

“With our starts being one of our strengths, the focus was on trying to gain ground early on and we did exactly that in race one, which catapulted us up the order. The first lap was pretty mental! I saw [Josh] Cook going sideways and was lucky not to be collected in his slide, and then Ricky and one of the PMR cars went through the chicane absolutely broadside.

“I could see Ricky coming across the track and was worried he was either going to take me out or hit the pit wall. It was a real shame for him, because he had good pace and deserved a lot more out of the weekend. But, on my side, I was really pleased to bring the car home well inside the points in sixth, which set us up nicely for the rest of the day.

“The Corolla’s chassis was working really well and that allowed me to hold off Ash [Sutton] in race three, even when I wasn’t using hybrid. It was a pity the race was shorter than originally planned, because we were continuing to lap quickly at the end and Stephen [Jelley] was clearly beginning to struggle with his rear tyres, but I just caught him a fraction too late. Still, fourth place was a strong way to sign off the weekend and put some more big points on the board to reward the whole team.”

“It was just one of those weekends, unfortunately,” admitted Collard. “I had high hopes for Thruxton and really wanted to get a good result at my home track – particularly after what had happened at Snetterton – but it wasn’t to be. Saturday was a bit of a rollercoaster of a day. We had a front track rod let go in FP1, and I was so lucky it was on an ‘out’ lap. Saying that, I still hit the grass at about 120mph; heading straight towards the barriers at that kind of speed is never fun!

“Thankfully, I managed to keep it out of the Armco and the guys worked hard to fix the problem and repair the car for FP2 – and then in qualifying, there wasn’t much more we could have got out of the session, I don’t think. I was happy to be starting tenth – it put us right in the mix and in with a good shout of scoring some solid points.

“That plan then obviously went completely out of the window on the opening lap of race one with the contact at the chicane, and my Toyota Corolla ended up looking pretty second-hand by the end of the day, to be honest! I was facing sideways quite a few times, facing the barriers, facing the pit wall, facing backwards, facing other cars…

“As I said ahead of the weekend, if there’s half a gap, I’m going to go for it – that’s simply who I am and I make no apology for it. I wouldn’t want to race any other way. I gave it everything I had and drove my heart out, and we at least managed to eke out a few points. I just think we were really unlucky with how some of the situations panned out, but we’ve got to be on the other side of the bad luck at some stage…”

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