TOYOTA GAZOO RACING UK REFLECTS ON ‘EXCEPTIONAL TEAM EFFORT’
For the second consecutive year, Rory Butcher piloted his Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Corolla GR Sport to the top step of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship podium at Silverstone last weekend (24/25 September), as the Scot outscored all of his rivals in the penultimate event of the campaign.
Buoyed by a commanding double victory in Northants 12 months earlier, Toyota GAZOO Racing UK returned to the 1.64-mile National circuit in bullish mood, and Butcher and young team-mate Ricky Collard were both firmly in the ballpark from the outset.
The Surrey-born star lapped inside the top four on the timesheets in both free practice sessions, with his Scottish stablemate in close company just a few hundredths-of-a-second behind.
In qualifying, Butcher then replicated his performance from 2021 by planting his British-built Corolla on pole position amongst the 29 high-calibre contenders in the UK’s premier motor racing series – beating his own prior benchmark in the process – with Collard a mere 0.139s in arrears in sixth. The 26-year-old further underscored the Toyota’s raw pace by setting the best theoretical lap time of anybody in the field.
Butcher then executed a textbook start on Sunday to launch immediately into the lead in race one, pulling clear to the tune of almost three-and-a-half seconds at one stage before his pursuers began narrowing the gap.
A mid-race safety car intervention to deal with a car beached in the gravel trap then eroded his advantage entirely, but despite subsequently coming under sustained pressure from Jake Hill, the Kirkcaldy native held his nerve superbly to secure a milestone tenth career BTCC triumph.
With significantly less hybrid power at his disposal in race two as a penalty for his success, Butcher was always going to be facing a tall order to repeat that winning feat, but following another excellent getaway from pole, he had established a margin of more than a second over the squabbling pack behind when the safety car was summoned again on lap six due to an incident further down the order.
After the restart, Hill began crawling all over the back of the Corolla in a carbon-copy of race one, with 2019 BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner Butcher ceding to the inevitable on lap 12 before turning his attentions to fending off brother-in-law and triple title-winner Gordon Shedden for second, which he did all the way to the chequered flag.
From seventh on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale, the 35-year-old exploited a bright start and an opening lap kerfuffle between the leaders to immediately gain four places, going on to hassle defending champion Ash Sutton throughout. Third place not only completed a podium hat-trick – for the first time in his career – but also vaulted Butcher into the top five in the title standings ahead of the season finale at Brands Hatch GP next month (8/9 October).
In the sister car, Collard climbed to fifth early on in the curtain-raising contest after pulling off a neat pass on Dan Cammish, before snatching fourth during the course of a lap three shuffle. The former single-seater and GT ace was looking to make it a maiden double podium for Toyota GAZOO Racing UK, until a tap from behind and boost issues blunted his challenge, restricting him to eighth in the final reckoning.
Collard was running comfortably inside the top ten again in race two when a fuel pump problem obliged him to park up prematurely, with flames licking out from underneath his Corolla’s bonnet – but courtesy of an outstanding repair job by the Speedworks crew, he was able to start race three from 27th, scything his way into the top 20 within the space of just two laps.
The third-generation racer was up to 17th and homing rapidly in on a points-paying finish when he arrived at Becketts on lap five to find Adam Morgan’s car broadside across the track following a spin – and as he braked in avoidance, he was hit from behind, ending his charge on the spot. While understandably disappointed not to have come away with the results he deserved from a weekend that had promised so much more, Collard can nonetheless take a great deal of encouragement with him to Brands Hatch in just under a fortnight’s time.
“That was exactly what we needed – an absolutely fantastic weekend,” proclaimed Team Principal Christian Dick. “I don’t think we’ve ever had three podiums in one day before. It was an exceptional team effort, and just reward for the relentless hard work and the passion that every single person inside this team puts in on a daily basis.
“We have a stunning track record at Silverstone – I genuinely can’t believe the success we’ve had there over the years – but that of course piles on the pressure every time. With a different engine this season and the new hybrid system, there were additionally a number of unknowns in the equation, but from the get-go, we were right on the money with both cars, and Rory and Ricky spurred each other on.”
“You can only dream of weekends like that – it had been a long road since our last victory, and we’d been needing it all year,” admitted Butcher. “I was getting a bit bored of being reminded that I was the only driver inside the top ten in the championship standings without a race win to my name this season!
“Silverstone has been really good to me over the past couple of years, and off the back of our performance and result there 12 months ago, expectations were high. The Corolla felt amazing right from the start – just mega. It reminded me of the feeling I had in the car in 2021, and it was really hooked up in qualifying. As usual around the National circuit, it was a session that literally came down to hundredths-of-a-second and I didn’t know if pole was on, but thankfully, I managed to piece my quickest lap together.
“That obviously gave us the best possible opportunity to get a result out of the weekend, and I went into Sunday feeling very positive and ready to fight. We were absolutely gunning for the win in race one. I thought I had checked out initially, so I focussed on easing off the hybrid and trying to regen, but Jake [Hill] began making massive inroads into me and the safety car then equalised everything. After the re-start, it was a ‘dash for the cash’ and just qualifying lap after qualifying lap as I kept counting them down!
“We made some changes for race two and the car really switched on in the first few laps, but then it fell away slightly and although I put up a bit of a defence against Jake, once I saw him pull alongside, I knew it was game over. Nonetheless, I was content to finish second and claw back some more points against the two guys I’m battling for fifth in the championship.
“We improved the Corolla again for the final race, and I was made up to come away with three podiums for the first time in my BTCC career. I had one go at Ash [Sutton] into Brooklands on the second lap, but we didn’t quite have the legs on him to be able to mount a proper challenge. Still, what a fantastic weekend! My family were there to celebrate with me and I was delighted for the whole team – it was great to repay them for all their hard work this season with three sets of silverware.”
“I honestly don’t know what it is I’ve done to upset the racing gods,” pondered Collard. “Maybe a black cat crossed my path or I walked under a ladder – whatever it is, this bad luck just doesn’t seem to want to go away! I really don’t know what to say anymore.
“I felt very positive going to Silverstone, having finished on the podium there before in the BTCC. It was the first time I’d ever driven the National layout in a front-wheel drive car, and the last time I’d driven it in anything at all was four years ago so I had a lot to learn and re-learn from that perspective, but we hit the ground running and showed really strong pace right from the word ‘go’.
“It was frustrating to be driven into towards the end of FP1, and the mechanics did a stellar job to get my Corolla repaired for FP2 because there was a lot of damage. We were then the fastest front-wheel drive car in that session, so I was confident heading into qualifying and while it’s notoriously tricky to nail the perfect lap around there with the traffic and the tow, if I’d strung my three best sectors together, I’d have been on pole, which I think showed what we were capable of – and sixth still left us in with a very decent shout.
“We were on for a good finish in race one until we began losing boost, and then in race two, the fuel pump failure resulted in a fiery ending. A huge shout-out once again to the Speedworks crew for getting the car rebuilt in time for race three, and I was so disappointed not to be able to reward them for that hard work. There were definitely some points up for grabs, but I got a shunt from behind when I slowed down to avoid Morgan and that was all she wrote. That clearly wasn’t the way we wanted to end the weekend, but we’ll refocus, regroup and go again at Brands Hatch.”