Butcher Carves Through The Pack For First Podium Of The Season At Snetterton
Snetterton has historically been a happy hunting ground for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK, and that theme continued last weekend (20/21 May) as Rory Butcher produced a determined drive, carving through the field to take the runners-up spot in Round 9 of the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Cars Championship.
Around the longest circuit on the BTCC calendar, qualifying was interrupted by a brace of red flag stoppages for an oil leak and a car off the track. When the session resumed with just 15 minutes left on the clock, none of the Toyota drivers had a representative lap time on the board.
Yet, Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble dug deep, with Collard leading the charge in fifth, Butcher not far behind in eighth and Gamble vaulting up the order right at the end from 23rd into 12th.
On Sunday, Collard made a bright start to the curtain-raising contest with the medium-compound tyres on his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport, briefly challenging for third. However, he was then forced out on lap five when a stone flicked up by a car in front put a hole in his radiator.
On the less favourable harder Goodyear boots, Butcher fought well to stave off the pack behind – including Dan Cammish, championship leader going into the weekend – to finish ninth, with Gamble nabbing a couple of points for 14th.
Butcher advanced a spot to eighth in race two on the medium rubber, as Collard set about climbing his way up from the very back. Exploiting his soft tyres, the 26-year-old gained eight positions on the opening tour alone. He would conclude his charge in 13th – an impressive 14-place improvement on his starting slot – with Gamble narrowly missing out on a second consecutive score in 16th.
The Nottinghamshire racer was looking to finish with a flourish on the soft tyres in the day’s finale, but Lady Luck unfortunately had other ideas, with the No.42 car stopping on-track on the formation lap due to a fuel leak. Collard initially climbed into the top ten, but thereafter faced struggles on the hard rubber and clung on for a points finish in 14th.
Up front, meanwhile, all eyes were on Butcher. Having despatched multiple-time champions Ash Sutton (NAPA Racing UK) and Colin Turkington (Team BMW), as well as Jake Hill (Laser Tools with MB Motorsport) on the first lap, he boldly passed Team BMWs Adam Morgan and Stephen Jelley the following time around.
After posting a new fastest lap and an overtake past Dan Rowbottom (NAPA Racing UK), before setting off in pursuit of reigning champion Tom Ingram in the lead. Ultimately, he had to concede to Cammish, but a post-race disqualification for the NAPA Racing driver reinstated the Kirkcaldy native in second, with his 30th career rostrum elevating him to eighth on our title table.
“Everybody in the team has been working their absolute socks off, and it was so good to bring some silverware back for them all and some buzz back to the garage,” said Butcher, “Our plan for Sunday was to put all our eggs in one basket and focus on race three, and that strategy paid off.”
“I was so pleased to score our first podium of the year – that was a great reward for the whole team, and it means a lot. We still clearly have a bit of speed to find, but we’re seeing the improvements and the result of all the effort that has been put in and we’re making good progress – and that’s hugely encouraging for the upcoming events.”
“We know the car is usually better over a race distance than a single lap, so we felt very optimistic going into Sunday, but it was obviously all undone early on when the stone got into the radiator in race one, which was pure misfortune,” said Collard, “That then left us on the back foot for the rest of the day, but I enjoyed getting stuck in and putting on a show in race two and salvaging what I could from race three on the hard tyres.
“I ran a different set-up to the other guys in free practice, but it didn’t really work so we followed the same direction as Ricky for qualifying,” said Gamble, “With the disruptions to the session, I didn’t have chance to get a genuine feel for the car and then my first representative lap time got disallowed due to track limits, which meant the pressure was on at the end with only one shot left.
“Like Rory, I spent all day Sunday banking the soft tyres, but unfortunately, we never got chance to capitalise. That was really frustrating, because there were only a handful of cars on the softs in race three. That was another chance to score some good points, but we’ll take it on the chin and go again next time.”