- Scot’s crowd-pleasing charge yields 30th visit to BTCC rostrum
- Collard shines in qualifying with top five grid slot in Toyota Corolla
- Surrey-born star and team-mate Gamble out of luck on race day
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 for the runner-up spoils to open the team’s podium account in the 2023 BritishTouring Car 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, and when the session belatedly resumed with just 15 minutes left on the clock, none of the Toyota drivers had a representative lap time on the board.
Refusing to buckle under the pressure, Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble all 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 amongst the 27 high-calibre contenders in the UK’s premier motor racing series.
With the medium-compound tyres on his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport – run by Northwich, Cheshire-based Speedworks Motorsport – Collard made a bright start to the curtain-raising contest the next day as he briefly challenged for third, but after settling into fifth, 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 a marauding pack behind – including Dan Cammish, championship leader going into the weekend – to finish ninth, with the similarly-shod 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 scything his way up from the very back of the grid following his earlier misfortune. Exploiting his soft tyres, the 26-year-old gained eight positions on the opening tour alone. Breaking into the points on lap four, 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 a rearguard defence on the hard rubber and doggedly clung on for a points finish in 14th – scant reward for a weekend that had promised so much more for the Surrey-born star.
Up front, meanwhile, all eyes were on Butcher. The highest-placed starter on softs, the Scot – a former BTCC Independents’ title-winner – put on a thrilling show for the capacity trackside crowd and live ITV4 television cameras. Having despatched multiple champions Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington as well as Jake Hill on the first lap, he boldly passed Adam Morgan and Stephen Jelley the following time around.
Next on Butcher’s ‘hit list’ was Dan Rowbottom, and after posting a new fastest lap, the 36-year-old made short work of his prey, before setting off in pursuit of reigning champion Tom Ingram in the lead. Ultimately, he had to concede to a charging 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 in the title table.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“To achieve our first podium finish of the season was a fantastic way to conclude a challenging weekend and a real fillip for every single member of this team, who have all worked tirelessly in recent weeks to pull us up the grid. The delays in qualifying threw everybody’s strategies into disarray, but all three drivers pulled it out of the bag and that put us in a decent position heading into race day.
“We took the decision to play the long game with Rory and George, and it was a joy to watch Rory in the opening laps of race three as he clearly revelled in the Corolla’s performance and picked his rivals off in convincing fashion. It was a superb drive, and second place was no less than he and the whole team deserved.
“George too would almost certainly have been in the hunt for a solid points haul without his misfortune, and I thought Ricky responded brilliantly to the disappointment of Brands Hatch. He was one of the stars of qualifying and looked super strong early on in race one, and his recovery in race two was blistering. Both he and George are very capable of winning trophies themselves, so let’s keep our heads down, keep working hard – and go and win some more!”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“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. Our plan for Sunday was to put all of our eggs in one basket and focus on race three, and that strategy paid off. We took the pain on the hard tyres in race one, things were a bit better on the mediums in race two – which enabled us to stay in the mix – and then the car just switched on when we bolted on the softs.
“With a lot of the drivers around us on the grid on hards, we knew we needed to make hay, and 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.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The track limits thing was still in the back of my mind at the beginning of the weekend, which compromised my driving a little bit in practice, but we stuck to the plan and I managed to achieve my best qualifying performance so far in the Corolla. I was expecting to be fifth-from-bottom, to be brutally honest, not fifth-fastest!
“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 pretty early on when the stone got into the radiator in race one, which was pure misfortune. 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.
“It was great to see Rory up on the podium – that was a real lift for everybody in the team – and we will take that confidence forward with us. Despite the personal disappointment, it’s clear that things are starting to come together now, so hopefully we can get some proper momentum building...”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“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, which was a step into the unknown for me. 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 really 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 and Aiden Moffat – who was starting behind me and who we had been quicker than all weekend – finished eighth. That was another chance to score some really good points gone begging, but we’ll take it on the chin and go again next time.”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography