It was Rory Butcher who led the way for the Speedworks Motorsport-run outfit in free practice around Brands’ short Indy loop, topping the timesheets in FP2 behind the wheel of his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport. The Scot subsequently survived a number of heart-in-mouth moments during a wet and wild qualifying session to line up fifth amongst the 27 high-calibre contenders for Sunday’s curtain-raising contest, less than 0.150s shy of a spot on the front row of the grid, with Collard 14th and new recruit George Gamble 16th.
After initially challenging Jake Hill for fourth, Butcher switched his attentions to staving off Tom Ingram before ultimately having to give best to the defending champion and Bobby Thompson. He went on to place seventh, with Collard and Gamble improving to ninth and 11th respectively.
Former BTCC Independents’ title-holder and Jack Sears Trophy winner Butcher advanced a spot to sixth in race two, with Collard in close company until a tag from a rival into the last corner on the last lap dropped the Surrey-born star to ninth, with Gamble splitting the pair in eighth.
The trio were evenly-matched once again in the weekend’s finale, in which they began second (Collard), third (Gamble) and sixth (Butcher) on the partially-reversed grid. In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd, a feisty Collard made a bid for the lead around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend when the starting lights went out, continuing to hold his nerve on the outside line at Druids and finally making the move stick on the inside of Graham Hill Bend to seize the initiative.
After breaking clear of the chasing pack, the third-generation racer later found his mirrors increasingly filled by Sutton, who closed right onto the Toyota’s tail. The pair swapped positions over the course of a grandstand final lap, with the Napa Racing driver finding a way past only for Collard to boldly fight back and reclaim the top spot, but having crossed the finish line first, the 26-year-old was demoted to eighth by a ten-second penalty for exceeding track limits, cruelly denying him what had looked set to be a hugely popular maiden triumph.
Butcher and Gamble similarly ran inside the top five early on – even engaging in a wheel-to-wheel duel at one stage – but they too would both face disappointment, the Kirkcaldy native forced out by an engine issue and the Nottinghamshire ace obliged to pit for a tyre change after picking up a puncture.
Despite missing out on the win, Collard has nonetheless climbed up into the top ten in the Drivers’ standings in the UK’s premier motor racing series, with the action next set to move on to Snetterton in Norfolk on 20/21 May.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The highs and lows of motorsport, I think they call that! First and foremost, I want to congratulate Ricky on an absolutely incredible performance in race three. That was the drive of his life. To keep anybody behind for so long is impressive, but to keep Ash Sutton at bay – and then re-pass him after briefly conceding the lead – was genuinely outstanding. We all feel the pain of losing the win, but Ricky should take tremendous confidence from this and his time will unquestionably come.
“The overall feeling from the weekend was very positive. We’ve taken a clear step forward since Donington Park, and following a topsy-turvy qualifying session, Rory, Ricky and George scored well across races one and two. We were obviously on course for an even better result in the last one, with all three drivers inside the top five until misfortune struck, but we leave with our heads held high and we’ll come back gunning for glory at Snetterton in a fortnight’s time.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“We entered Brands Hatch with a different mindset and approach following the frustration of Donington Park. I had a good feeling straight out-of-the-box, but the conditions in qualifying were horrendous. There were streams of water running across the track and we were just aquaplaning everywhere. It was a real balance between pushing hard and restraining yourself so as not to throw it off into the scenery because it was so easy to get it wrong, but we managed to put ourselves in a good position.
“Sunday was then a consistent day and we scored solid points in the first two races, but I don’t feel like I got the most out of the car. I think we missed an opportunity on the soft tyre in race one – we didn’t quite make it work for us and I couldn’t really attack the guys in front. We changed a few things for race two which yielded an improvement, and race three was looking good until the head gasket went. Still, we’re making strides forward and Ricky won a race on the road, which is amazing, so we’ll take the positives and move on to the next one.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I was determined to put on a really good show for the fans in race three and give it absolutely everything, and I certainly did that. I raced my heart out – I’d say it was one of the best drives of my career.
“I’ve competed against Ash [Sutton] for years, and I have huge respect for him. We’re both hungry and want to win and we raced hard, clean and fair. He’s world-class and a proper touring car driver, and we were side-by-side for about half of the final lap. He gave me a couple of ‘love taps’ and as soon as I realised he was alongside, I left him space. I got the switchback, we leant on each other and there was a bit of door-banging. That was great for the fans, and I think they were totally robbed by what happened afterwards.
“The Speedworks team is like a big family and there were a few tears in the garage, but at the end of the day, we win together and we lose together – and I guarantee we will come back fighting!”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The more laps I’m doing in the Corolla, the more comfortable I am in the car and in front wheel-drive. Everything felt good in free practice, with all three of us very close on the timesheets, but qualifying was really hard. They were the worst conditions I’d ever driven in round Brands Hatch.
“Thankfully, the first couple of races went much better – I was really happy with both of them – and then we were just unlucky with the puncture in race three. That was a shame, because we were fast again, but overall, we made mega progress during what was only my first proper day in the car in the dry. We’re definitely getting quicker and getting to grips with the new engine now, so things are looking good.”