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Toyota GAZOO Racing UK signs off season with double podium

Rory Butcher completed a stellar end to his 2022 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign with a podium double at Brands Hatch (8/9 October) to secure fifth spot in the overall standings – as Toyota GAZOO Racing UK stablemate Ricky Collard signed off the season by shading a brace of multiple champions.

Butcher travelled to Brands’ legendary ‘GP’ circuit with his tail in the air having outscored all 28 of his high-calibre rivals with a victory and two further rostrum finishes a fortnight earlier at Silverstone, and he duly maintained that impressive form by planting his British-built, Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Corolla GR Sport second on the grid.

In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and trackside crowd, the Scot staved off the early attentions of defending champion Ash Sutton in race one before applying the pressure to Tom Ingram ahead as the top two pulled comfortably clear of the chasing pack.

After shadowing the champion-elect all the way to the chequered flag to seal the runner-up spoils, Butcher then challenged for the lead around the outside of the opening corners in race two prior to slotting into second. With his headlights ablaze, the 35-year-old again kept Ingram honest, but as his pace faded slightly, he ultimately found himself forced to concede to a hard-charging Jake Hill and four-time title-holder Colin Turkington.

Fourth place was nonetheless sufficient to secure Butcher a second career top-five championship finish in the UK’s premier motor racing series. The 2019 BTCC Independents’ Champion completed his season’s work with a feisty run from seventh on the partially-reversed grid in race three to third, despatching Sutton along the way courtesy of a neat pass into Paddock Hill Bend to ascend the podium steps for the ninth time this year.

In the sister Corolla, Collard proved to be evenly matched with Butcher throughout free practice, but a disappointing qualifying session left the 26-year-old down in 18th – albeit barely a third-of-a-second shy of a spot inside the top ten.

Digging deep, the #21 driver climbed into the points by the end of the first lap in the curtain-raising contest en route to 14th at the flag, before engaging in a tight midfield scrap in race two that yielded 16th position, less than four seconds adrift of ninth-placed Bobby Thompson at the tail of an eight-car train.

The ex-single-seater and GT racer subsequently got the better of former team-mate Turkington and fellow multiple champion Gordon Shedden for 11th in the weekend’s finale, to pip double title-holder Jason Plato to 16th in the Drivers’ classification.

“What a great way to end the season!” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “Five podium finishes from the last six races is a tremendous achievement and shows just what a sweet spot we’ve got the Corolla into. To be equally competitive at two such different types of circuit as Silverstone and Brands GP is testament to how well this car is now working across the board.

“Rory produced another fantastic performance to build upon his Silverstone success and clinch fifth position in the final points table. Had we only begun the campaign stronger, I have no doubt he would have been right in the thick of the title battle, but that also gives us plenty of optimism heading into next year.

“Ricky underscored the progress he has made this season by taking the fight to the likes of Colin Turkington and Gordon Shedden – with seven BTCC titles between them – and coming out on top. He is now very much at home in front-wheel drive, and while he has yet to decide where his future lies, if he does return to the championship I am confident he will reap the rewards of the hard work he has put in over the past few months.

“All that remains is to thank all the Speedworks guys and girls for another outstanding effort this year. It’s been a challenging campaign in some respects, but we have pulled together and established ourselves as a true force to be reckoned with – and Amy and I would not want to be doing this with anybody else. They all deserve a bit of a break now to recharge their batteries, and then we’ll be fully back on it again in preparation for 2023 – let’s make it our best season yet!”

“My aim for Brands Hatch was to cement fifth in the standings, and that’s exactly what we did,” added Butcher. “We came into this season with a different engine package and a shake-up in the regulations with the hybrid system replacing success ballast, and it took us the first four or five weekends to get to where we should be – but over the second half, we’ve really settled into our stride.

“I was absolutely buzzing after qualifying; we didn’t really know how the session was going to go, but the changes we made during free practice clearly took us in the right direction as the car felt very strong – much more so than last year at Brands GP. It was great to back up our Silverstone form with another front-row start, and I felt in a good place going into race day – I was properly gunning for it and on the hunt for some trophies.

“Tom [Ingram] and I both had good pace but in different parts of the track in race one, and I was happy to finish second in front of all the guests, sponsors, family and friends we had with us at the weekend. I then didn’t have quite the same feeling in the next one, and once Hill and Turkington began putting me under pressure, I had to adjust my line and the race just got away from me a little bit.

“We looked at what we could do better for race three, and we came away with another podium, which was really satisfying. We’ve actually been mega-consistent this year and have scored points in 29 of the 30 races – that kind of consistency is really hard to come by in this championship.

“It’s been a very special end to the season. I feel like we’re really building some momentum and it’s kind of sad that we’re now heading into a break, but we’ve learned so much and that fills us with confidence for 2023. Hopefully, we can go into next year, hit the ground running and really exploit that to have a genuine crack at the title.”

“After the damage at Silverstone, I had a completely new car for Brands Hatch,” said Collard. “So it’s a massive credit to everyone at Speedworks that we had minimal problems with it first time out. I, unfortunately, got pinged for track limits in qualifying, which cost me 12th on the grid and a much better shot on Sunday, but we came through well in race one.

“We struggled for straight-line speed in race two, and that makes it really difficult to overtake when the field is so tight. Race three was then probably the best one I’ve had all year, with some enjoyable battles against Colin Turkington, Gordon Shedden and Stephen Jelley – I think Colin and I ran side-by-side for nearly half a lap!

“Looking back overall, this clearly hasn’t been the year we expected. It’s been the toughest season I’ve ever had, with repeated bad luck and issues beyond our control as a team that have denied us better results. I feel like I’ve driven some really good races and I’ve certainly had some fun along the way, but the overriding sentiment is definitely frustration.

“I need to evaluate everything over the long winter break, but whatever happens next, I’m extremely grateful for all the help and support Rory and Speedworks have given me, not only on track but away from the circuit, too. They’ve been absolutely fantastic, and I’m proud to count them all as mates. From the bottom of my heart, a very big ‘thank you’ to each and every one of them.”

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