TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK showed Points and Promise in BTCC opener
Donington Park (22/23 April) was an encouraging opening weekend for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK, with the team securing a number of points-scoring finishes, and Rory Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble showcasing the speed of the Toyota Corolla come rain and shine.
As the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship got underway, Collard was quick to lead the team’s charge, posting the fourth-fastest time in FP1 and going sixth quickest in FP2 amongst tough competition. The Toyota trio put more than 100 laps on the board between them.
Collard looked poised to carry that form over into qualifying, progressing through Q1 to book himself a place in the Top Ten Shootout. However, a fuel line split in the engine denied him a chance to set a time, restricting him to tenth on the grid. Barely two tenths-of-a-second blanketed all three drivers, with Butcher lining up 13th and new recruit Gamble 17th on his front wheel-drive bow.
Sunday brought contrastingly damp and greasy conditions, minimising available grip. Despite this, Collard took the chequered flag in a strong sixth, just two spots ahead of Gamble, who battled his way up to eighth, with Butcher similarly snatching a handful of points in 11th.
As the weather worsened, Gamble – living up to his surname – opted to pit at the end of the formation lap ahead of Race Two, to switch from slick tyres to wets. Immediately, this relegated the 26-year-old local to the tail-end of the order, but his choice would prove to be inspired. By lap nine, he had surged through to fourth, however, an incident at the Old Hairpin resulted in race-ending damage.
Butcher made a similar decision to change over to wets – albeit once the race was underway, dropping the Scot off the lead lap. He fought back to sneak a couple of points for 14th place, while Collard was brought out of contention by contact on lap one.
In the day’s finale, it was Butcher’s turn to find himself in the wars. The 36-year-old climbed into the top ten, before slipping down the order again following a brief off-track excursion. He recovered to 11th at the flag to complete a hat-trick of points finishes, with Gamble and Collard in close company behind in 13th and 14th respectively – both from the rear of the grid.
Rory Butcher said: “Three solid points scores in the bag, but obviously not what we had been aiming for. Introducing a new engine affects so many different elements, and all-day Saturday, it felt like we were searching for something and I struggled to settle into a rhythm…we went the wrong way on set-up for race one, which left us battling understeer and lacking speed, and we then took a gamble in race two that didn’t pay off, which kind of summed up our weekend – the cards simply didn’t fall our way.
“That said, we made progress throughout the day and took a big step in race three, when the Corolla felt mega and I was really in the groove. Annoyingly, I made a little mistake and ran wide, which meant I had to do it all over again, but I enjoyed coming through the field and now that we know better where we stand, we can hopefully move forward.”
Ricky Collard said: “From the moment we rolled out on-track, we had strong pace. The Corolla was really on-song, and after our form in free practice, we knew we had the potential in qualifying to get through to the top ten shootout,
“We obviously managed to achieve that and everything was working well, so to then not be able to capitalise due to the fuel line fire was a massive shame. I felt we deserved to at least have a crack at it after all the hard work that everybody had put in.
“That left us out-of-position on the grid for race one, but we scored some good points in sixth. We unfortunately made the wrong tyre choice for race two, and I got hit multiple times on the opening lap, which resulted in a front-left component failure. The Speedworks guys did a fantastic job to get the car back out again for race three and I got a blinding start, and managed to make up 12 places in total to grab a couple more points.”
George Gamble said: “It’s a big learning curve switching from rear to front wheel-drive – it requires a completely different approach – and I feel I learned a lot over the weekend.
“Saturday was the first properly dry day I’ve had in the Toyota, and I was only a tenth-of-a-second away from Rory in qualifying in what was a really close session. I still need more track time to unlock those last few tenths that I’m missing, but we had a fast car and it was encouraging to come through the pack and make up so many places in races one and three.
“We made the right strategy call in race two and were up to fourth when we had a coming-together with Ronan Pearson while fighting over third. He had jumped us in the pit-lane when we changed tyres because we also adjusted the ride-height, but I was quicker and looking to get the position back. I went for a move, but unfortunately, we tangled. I’m still kicking myself about that, to be honest, because we could and should have finished on the podium.”
The BTCC next moves on to Brands Hatch’s Indy Circuit in Kent in just over a week’s time (6/7 May).