- Local star thrills fans with hard-charging performance at Thruxton
- Corolla speeds to five top ten finishes around Britain’s fastest circuit
- Final race results earn Toyota first Manufacturers’ trophy of 2023
Ricky Collard put on a show at his home track as the British Touring Car Championship raced into Thruxton last weekend (3/4 June), engaging in a number of entertaining doorhandle-to-doorhandle duels and coming away with a fifth-place finish to join Toyota Gazoo Racing UK team-mate Rory Butcher inside the top ten in the title table.
After displaying promising pace and gathering plenty of data during free practice around the fastest circuit in the country, Butcher and Collard were evenly-matched in qualifying, lining up tenth and 11th respectively amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists in the UK’s premier motor racing series, separated by a scant 25 thousandths-of-a-second.
The Scot admitted to not quite hooking the lap together, while local hero Collard was looking set to improve late in the session when the red flags flew to enable a dislodged tyre stack to be moved back into position. In the third Toyota Corolla GR Sport – British-built and run by two-time BTCC Independents’ Champions, Speedworks Motorsport – George Gamble struggled to settle into a rhythm on his front wheel-drive debut at Thruxton, losing five lap times to track limits transgressions and winding up a frustrated 23rd.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd the next day, Butcher went on the offensive in the curtain-raising contest to fight his way forward to seventh, and in a somewhat lonely race, that is where he would remain, with a sizeable gap both ahead and behind.
Collard finished where he had started in 11th, but that did not tell the full story of an energetic yo-yo battle that included a brave pass on Adam Morgan at high-speed Noble. Despite finding himself delayed by an opening lap clash between two other drivers, Gamble progressed through the field to 17th, missing out on the points by less than a second.
The Nottinghamshire ace would be out of luck in race two, however, retiring on the first lap due to broken suspension caused by contact. Butcher conversely made a bright start to overhaul Dan Cammish and four-time champion Colin Turkington, but was ultimately forced to concede the positions again following a dogged defence under increasing pressure. The Kirkcaldy native took the chequered flag seventh once more, just under three seconds ahead of Collard in ninth.
The 26-year-old Surrey-born star lined up third on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale and was embroiled in a three-way tussle for the bottom step of the podium throughout. Along the way, he indulged in a crowd-pleasing duel with eventual winner Dan Rowbottom and saved a sideways slide through ultra-fast Church – not a corner for the faint-hearted.
When the flag fell, he was less than eight tenths-of-a-second adrift of the rostrum in fifth, with former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner Butcher not far behind in seventh. The pair’s combined score proved sufficient to secure Toyota the Manufacturers’ trophy for the first time in 2023, as Collard climbed to tenth in the championship standings right behind his team-mate. Gamble made up no fewer than eight places to finish within touching-distance of the points again in 17th.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Thruxton is a unique proposition on the BTCC calendar, and as such demands a unique set-up and approach. For various reasons, we didn’t manage to nail qualifying, but Rory and Ricky nonetheless put themselves in with a solid shout from where they were starting and both then drove extremely well throughout race day. Ricky’s fighting spirit was a joy to behold as he got stuck in with real enthusiasm and wrung every last drop out of the Corolla. He thoroughly deserved his best result of the season so far.
“Rory, as ever, was supremely consistent and his reward was a solid haul of points for three excellent performances. It was always going to be an uphill challenge for George, having never been to Thruxton in a front wheel-drive car before, but he went about everything very maturely and methodically and made good progress in the two races he finished. It was fantastic to end the weekend by taking the Manufacturers’ trophy for race three – hopefully it’ll be the first of many this year.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The Corolla felt pretty good from the outset at Thruxton. We didn’t manage to put it all together in qualifying, and it wouldn’t have taken very much to move a few places higher up the grid, but we always have a strong race car so we knew we could go on the attack on Sunday.
“By the time I’d fought my way up to seventh in race one, I was in a bit of a no man’s land, so I just focussed on looking after the car and bringing it home, then I had a good battle with Dan [Cammish] and Colin [Turkington] in race two but didn’t quite have enough to keep them behind. We were in the mix again in race three, but it’s difficult to overtake at Thruxton when you’re in the pack and you know one mis-step could cost you a whole load of positions. Overall, though, we’re clearly making progress and all the effort back at the factory is starting to pay off. It won’t be long until it’s our day...”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“It’s always enjoyable racing at Thruxton, and to finish the weekend by securing the Manufacturers’ trophy for Toyota in race three was the icing on the cake – that meant a lot to the whole team, who have been working their socks off all season.
“I gave it everything I had in all three races – maybe I pushed a bit too hard at times, but starting further down the field than we should have been due to the red flag in qualifying, I knew I had to get stuck in if I was going to make up ground and it’s simply not in my nature to lie down without a fight! I had a lot of fun battles and a few ‘moments’ too, and I think fifth was about as much as we could have got out of race three. We’re not a million miles off now; we just need to sit down and figure out how we can take that next step.”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Thruxton certainly feels very different in a front wheel-drive car compared to rear wheel-drive – more so than any other circuit I’ve been to so far in the Corolla. You really need to be comfortable and confident to be able to push round there, but I felt like I was on the back foot right from the word ‘go’ and Saturday was a tough day; I had a lot of laps disallowed in qualifying due to track limits, and that left me way too far down the grid.
“Despite the difficulty of fighting through the field at Thruxton, race one put us in a good position to push for points over the rest of the day, but then the damage we picked up on the first lap of race two meant we had to do it all over again in the last one and the upshot was that we came away empty-handed. If we can start further forward, it will make our life so much easier so that’s what we need to work on. It’s taking longer to adjust to front wheel-drive than I’d expected, but it’ll come...”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography