By his own admission, Rory Butcher has been struggling for confidence in the British Touring Car Championship in 2023, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK ace produced a vintage performance to tally his 11th
career triumph at Donington Park last weekend (26/27 August), to the delight of the many attending guests from nearby Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK).
It was Ricky Collard who spearheaded the Speedworks Motorsport-run outfit’s challenge in qualifying, as he threw his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport around the Leicestershire circuit’s legendary ‘GP’ layout with brio. His trademark maximum commitment approach earned the Surrey-born star third on the grid amongst the 26 high-calibre contenders in the country’s premier motor racing series, equalling his season’s best despite running on used rear tyres.
There was disappointment, however, for team-mates Butcher and George Gamble. The Scot was a frustrated 14th after failing to properly hook the lap together, while local hero Gamble – who hails from just up the road in Nottingham – was four places further back still, having impressed by setting the pace in a mixed-weather second free practice session earlier in the day.
On a wet track surface in the curtain-raising contest – and in front of the live ITV4 television cameras as well as a capacity trackside crowd – Collard made a superb start to snatch second from championship leader Ash Sutton around the outside of Redgate Corner for the first time, only to concede the position again when he found himself momentarily delayed by a slide for Tom Ingram ahead.
Thereafter, the 27-year-old artfully soaked up the pressure applied by four-time champion Colin Turkington behind, before having to give best to a hard-charging Jake Hill in the closing stages, leaving him fourth. Butcher and Gamble made positive progress through the pack to take the chequered flag in close company in 11th and 13th.
In dry conditions in race two, Collard produced another strong drive to wind up sixth, two spots in front of Butcher, who continued his upward momentum by battling his way to eighth. Gamble similarly looked set for a solid points-scoring finish after improving to 11th by mid-distance, only for his efforts to be undone by a puncture.
Butcher and Collard lined up respectively fifth and seventh for the weekend’s reversed-grid finale, and both gained early ground. Grabbing the bull by the horns, the 36-year-old Kirkcaldy native subsequently made short work of Tom Chilton at the Melbourne Hairpin on lap four and Árón Taylor-Smith going down the Craner Curves on lap five to rise to second, with a safety car intervention then carrying him right onto the tail of Dan Lloyd in the lead.
Going on the hunt, Butcher upped the ante once the action resumed, and was primed to attack when Lloyd’s car suddenly snapped sideways with less than half-a-lap remaining due to a broken driveshaft. That paved the way for the former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner to take his first victory of the campaign, maintaining his excellent record of winning at least once every season since 2019.
Collard was just 1.75 seconds behind in fourth – helping to secure Toyota the manufacturers’ trophy for the race – as he matched his career-high score from Knockhill two weeks previously to climb to seventh in the Drivers’ standings. Gamble concluded his weekend with a solid run from 22nd to 13th.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“This result feels like it has been a long time coming, and to achieve it at Toyota’s home track makes it all-the-more special. Rory has been through the mill this year, but we’ve never once doubted his ability and have done everything possible to support him to get back where he belongs – up at the front of the field.
“It was hugely rewarding to see him on the top step of the podium at the weekend, especially having to really fight for it after a difficult qualifying session, and his ballsy overtakes in race three showed just how hungry he still is for success.
“Ricky was the model of consistency again and has now finished 17 consecutive races inside the points, which in a championship as competitive as this, is a hugely impressive achievement, while George was unlucky to pick up a puncture as he was moving forward and looking poised for another strong set of results. It’s taken us a while to really get going this season, but it finally feels like we’re on the right track.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“It’s been a tough season – it seemed for a while like I had forgotten how to drive and I lost a lot of confidence, which really dragged me down, but everybody has stood by me, from the team to my sponsors and my family and I’ve been slowly rebuilding it. Now, it feels like the old Rory is back.
“The car was better than I was in qualifying; all the ingredients were there to put in a quick lap, but I didn’t piece it together. Still, I knew what I needed to do, so it was just a case of trying to gain places in each race to put ourselves in the mix for the reversed grid.
“The first one was pretty feisty, with a lot of nudging and overtaking, but we made it through unscathed and then strategically worked our way up the order again in race two. The Corolla was really strong in race three, and there was plenty of clean, door-to-door racing, which was great.
“I felt so sorry for Dan [Lloyd] – that was his win and he definitely deserved a trophy having driven so well, but at the same time, I was really happy to bring it back for the team because they deserve it too after all the hard work that everybody has put in. It was an emotional result for me, and super-cool to do it at our home event in front of so many people from TMUK. I was gifted that one, unquestionably, but after the season we’ve had, I will 100 per cent take it...”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I was very happy with third in qualifying, even if I didn’t quite extract the most from the car. We adopted a different strategy to the rest of the guys out there and went really risky with the set-up. The upshot was that the Corolla was very loose and on a knife-edge; that was the philosophy behind it, to try to get the rotation but perhaps we went a bit too far as I lost the rear-end a couple of times. I think there was a little bit more lap time left on the table, although not much left in terms of track limits as I was really hanging on!
“We did some more slipping and sliding around in race one. I got a mega start but then got caught out by Ingram going down the Craner Curves on the first lap. He had a massive moment, which in-turn made me have a massive moment and I thought we were all going off at one point!
“I was gutted not to get that elusive podium again – we always seem to be the bridesmaid, never the bride – but I just couldn’t hold Jake [Hill] off, and I was happy to bring the car back in fourth place. I was in and amongst it, which is where I want to be, and it was the same in race two.
“We then had a proper ‘old-school’ race three, with plenty of mayhem and contact. I had no pressure over the last three laps, so I was cheering Rory on over the radio. He’s had a difficult season, but we’re good mates and I was absolutely elated to see him get the win that he deserves.”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“After being quickest in FP2, we were targeting the top ten in qualifying, so it was disappointing to end up down in 18th. Going from an old tyre to a new tyre seemed to unsettle the balance of the car, but we knew we could still do some damage in the races.
“It was nice to have a wet race in the first of them, and we made good progress to gain five places. The aim then was to keep it rolling for the rest of the day to put us in with a shout for the reversed grid draw for race three, but the puncture obviously put paid to that. It was a real shame, as we were moving in the right direction again and given the results that Rory and Ricky came away with, I’m confident we could also have been right up there.
“As it was, we had to fight through from the back of the pack, which has been a bit of a theme this season, but the car felt good and it was nice to grab a few more points considering where we started, to maintain the positive momentum that we’ve been building recently.”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography