Toyota Gazoo Racing UK look back on Brands top ten treble
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK’s Ricky Collard signed off the team’s successful season with a trio of hard-fought top ten finishes in the British Touring Car Championship season finale at Brands Hatch (7/8 October).
Collard, Rory Butcher and George Gamble took to the track in beautiful autumnal conditions at Brands Hatch’s legendary ‘GP’ circuit, with the Surrey-born star on the pace from the outset as he lapped fourth and second-quickest amongst the 27 high-calibre contenders in the two free practice sessions.
In qualifying, however, it was Butcher who came to the fore, with the Scot replicating his 2022 performance at the ex-Formula 1 venue to line up an excellent second on the grid in the country’s premier motor racing series.
Hoping to take the fight to Ash Sutton (NAPA Racing UK), Butcher was as good as his word when the lights went out at the beginning of race one, drawing alongside the pole-sitter on the run to Paddock Hill Bend for the first time. Being on the outside line, however, left him vulnerable to attack from Tom Ingram, and he found himself conceding the position at Druids.
As the top two made good their escape on the faster soft tyres, Butcher turned his attentions to fending off a fired-up Bobby Thompson (Go Fix with Autoaid Breakdown) behind. In front of the live ITV4 television cameras, the pair engaged in an energetic, crowd-pleasing duel that saw them run side-by-side and trade places on multiple occasions.
The 36-year-old had successfully re-asserted his authority approaching mid-distance when a puncture suddenly pitched him off-track at Sheene Curve and sent him skating across the gravel. After deploying his car control to artfully keep the Corolla out of the barriers, Butcher returned to the pits for a replacement tyre, leaving him a lap off the lead and 23rd at the chequered flag.
From there, it would be a troubled day for the Kirkcaldy native. Having climbed into the points in 11th in race two, last lap technical issues dropped him to 19th, while an early clash just ahead in race three sent him across the grass in avoidance exiting Druids, relegating him to the rear of the field, from where he unleashed competitive lap times on his way back to 15th.
Collard was unable to reproduce his practice heroics in qualifying as he wound up 12th, but undeterred, he fought through to ninth in race one before vaulting up to fifth with a superb opening lap in race two. After relieving Dan Rowbottom (NAPA Racing UK) of fourth, the 27-year-old went on to flash across the finish line less than eight tenths-of-a-second adrift of the bottom step of the podium, subsequently completing his second full campaign in the BTCC with a strong run to sixth in race three to cement eighth spot in the title standings.
Gamble’s weekend, however, did not go to plan. Having lapped inside the top ten during free practice, the Nottinghamshire ace made hefty contact with the barriers on his second flying lap in qualifying, consigning him to a frustrated 22nd on the grid for race one. He converted that into 16th at the flag.
Having battled his way into the top ten in race two and closed onto the tail of a multi-car tussle for sixth, Gamble was then obliged to pit after incurring damage. The 27-year-old was on another charge in the day’s finale, rising from 23rd to 12th on the less favourable medium tyres when a mechanical issue at Druids caused him to collide with Jade Edwards (One Motorsport with Starline Racing), putting him out on the spot. That did not, however, prevent him from taking away the accolade for most places gained over the course of 2023 – an impressive 120.
Butcher concluded the campaign not far behind Collard in tenth in the championship classification, with Gamble 21st and Toyota Gazoo Racing UK fifth in the Teams’ table.
Butcher said: “Free practice wasn’t so straightforward, which was down to me rather than the car, so I approached qualifying in a different way. The track was really edgy, making it tricky to piece a lap together, but my best run felt so smooth and comfortable and I was able to hook it all up.
“It was a great feeling to be right up at the front and it really underscored how far we’ve come over the second half of the year, and from there, my goal was to finish the season on a high on race day. I had a fantastic fight with Bobby [Thompson] in race one and we’re already looking forward to 2024 – when we’ll do everything that we can to come back stronger!”
Collard said: “The Toyota felt magic in practice. We tweaked the set-up a bit, which put it on a knife-edge, but I knew if I could keep it on the black stuff, we would be in a really good position. It never quite came together in qualifying and I was very conscious of track limits penalties after what had happened at Brands Hatch earlier in the year, but we had a strong car underneath us – the Corolla’s chassis was so good out the back of the lap – and we were in the mix in all three races.
“The second one was really enjoyable. I made a blinding start and drove the wheels off the car, like I have done all season. I gave it absolutely everything and we were particularly strong on cold tyres – after one of the safety car re-starts, I very nearly got [Dan] Cammish for third. I then had a grandstand view of the fight for the lead in race three. It would have been good to have been in and amongst it, but we were just lacking that last little bit which we will focus on finding over the winter. There’s plenty more to come!”
Gamble said: “When you start further back in a championship as competitive as the BTCC, it isn’t easy to fight your way through, but we were on for decent points finishes in races two and three until we ran into trouble. I felt so bad for Jade [Edwards] in the last one – she was completely innocent and we both lost a great result.
“It’s been a tricky year for me overall and we’ve not been rewarded for the pace we’ve shown, but with a season’s experience in front wheel-drive now under my belt, the aim will be to hit the ground running in 2024.”