Toyota GAZOO Racing UK ready to return to happy hunting ground
During the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship’s most recent visits to Silverstone, the car in front has frequently been a Toyota, and Toyota GAZOO Racing UK drivers Rory Butcher and Ricky Collard are hoping that will continue to be the case as the UK’s premier motor racing series returns to the famous Northants circuit this weekend (24/25 September).
The squad has tallied no fewer than seven triumphs at Silverstone since 2016. Four of those have been achieved by the Northwich-based outfit’s Toyota Corolla, including a dominant double from pole position for former BTCC Independents’ Champion Butcher 12 months ago.
The 35-year-old is duly heading back with his tail up, buoyed by a trio of top-six finishes last time out at super-quick Thruxton – and eager to lay claim to his first victory of the 2022 campaign.
In the other side of the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK garage, young team-mate Collard has also shone at Silverstone in the past, winning there in the MSA Formula single-seater series in 2015 – posting fastest lap for good measure – before confidently securing his breakthrough BTCC podium at the legendary ‘Home of British Motorsport’ in only his sixth start in the championship three years later.
That result came from a front row qualifying slot – having missed out on pole position by a scant 18 thousandths-of-a-second – and the 26-year-old Surrey-born star very nearly reached the rostrum again in the following race, which was won, coincidentally, by Speedworks’ Avensis. Four years on, drivers and team alike have more Silverstone silverware solidly in their sights.
Following Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session at 1515 – broadcast on itv.com/btcc – every moment of Sunday’s doorhandle-to-doorhandle action will be televised live and in high-definition on ITV4, beginning at 1100.
“It’s fair to say Silverstone has been one of our most successful circuits over the years,” reflected Team Principal Christian Dick. “There’s a tendency in the BTCC to ‘pigeonhole’ different tracks as being favourable to front wheel-drive, rear wheel-drive, short or long wheelbase, but I think the fact that we have achieved multiple wins there with both the Corolla and Avensis – two very differently-shaped cars – is testament to the engineering expertise inside this team.
“Those guys are the unsung heroes behind the scenes who give the drivers the tools with which to get the job done, and both Rory and Ricky have been on fantastic form recently. Rory has been an absolute model of consistency as he hunts down a top five championship finish, which I think is a very realistic target. He is unquestionably overdue a win now this season, and after his performance at Silverstone last year, he will certainly enter the weekend as one of the pre-event favourites.
“Ricky similarly has an excellent previous record around the track. Anybody who can qualify on the front row of the grid and finish on the podium with just a handful of BTCC races under their belt is clearly a very special talent indeed, and there’s no reason at all why he shouldn’t be fighting right up at the sharp end again this weekend. Make no mistake; with the car and drivers we have, we are going to Silverstone with only one objective – victory.”
“Silverstone was probably our best circuit in 2021,” added Butcher, “and while a lot has changed since then – from the new hybrid system to a different engine package – we’re going back in a confident frame of mind. The Corolla is obviously mega there; it’s somewhere that really plays to the car’s key strengths, and we have a set-up that we know works very well around the track.
“Qualifying has been a bit of an Achilles’ heel for us this year, so we need to make sure we really maximise that because with the Silverstone ‘National’ lap being so short and the times so tight, there will be no margin for error. It’ll be crucial to get a tow and you have to get every single corner absolutely spot-on and hit every apex, which naturally ups the ante and the pressure – but if we can start towards the front, that will make our life much easier on Sunday.
“We know we have a good race car underneath us and that’s really important, as the track layout generates some of the most frantic action of the year, with four-abreast down the Wellington Straight at times. The slipstream effect is massive – if somebody is tucked right up behind you, it’s extremely difficult to break away.
“Overall, I’m really looking forward to the weekend and, while we’ll have our work cut out in such a fiercely competitive field, I’ll definitely be trying to replicate last season’s result. We’ve been very consistent this year in terms of continually bagging the points, but we haven’t come away with enough in the way of trophies. I would love to be up on the podium again at Silverstone and bring back some silverware for all the boys and girls in the team – nobody deserves that more than they do.”
“It’s always nice to go back to a track that I like and know well,” said Collard. “The Toyota performed really strongly at Silverstone last year and, combined with our recent form, I think we should be in pretty good shape. Although the ‘National’ layout has several long straights, it also has a number of long corners, which makes it a chassis circuit as much as an engine circuit in my opinion – and we know the Corolla has an excellent chassis.
“It will be vital to set the car up well to be able to really nail a lap in qualifying. The whole field could be covered by less than a second, which is incredibly close – we’ll be looking for literally hundredths if not indeed thousandths, like I discovered back in 2018.
“The nature and width of the ‘National’ circuit makes it relatively easy to set up overtaking moves and that should produce exciting racing, which ultimately is what we all want to see but even so, I really want to be lining up somewhere on the front few rows of the grid because when you start down the order in the BTCC, you’re at the mercy of mid-pack shenanigans.
“I’m just beginning now to get my head around how to bring the tyres in on a front wheel-drive car and since the summer break, qualifying has tended to go reasonably well for me. In fact, we’ve had some really strong pace over the second half of the season in general but haven’t always been able to show it, so the aim going to Silverstone is clearly to score some solid points towards the Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ championships – and hopefully we can spray a bit of podium champagne, too…”