Ricky Collard led the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK charge as the British Touring Car Championship concluded the opening half of its 2023 campaign at Oulton Park in Cheshire last weekend (17/18 June), achieving his best result of the season to-date on Speedworks Motorsport’s home soil.After calling in to Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK’s nearby Deeside Engine Plant during the build-up to the event, Collard and team-mates Rory Butcher and George Gamble entered qualifying aiming to progress through to the second part of the session – the ‘Top Ten Showdown’ – in the knowledge that grid position at Oulton is often key, given the difficulty of overtaking around the undulating 2.23km lap.
All three drivers were solidly in the mix as the clock ticked down in Q1, with Collard and Butcher safely booking their spots in Q2 – the Surrey-born star going fastest of anybody through the middle sector – while Gamble missed out by less than a tenth-of-a-second in the high-calibre, 27-strong field. Collard then maintained his stellar Q1 form in the shootout to secure a season-best third on the grid, withButcher winding up ninth and Gamble 14th.
The next day, in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd, Collard initially held position before conceding a place to defending champion Tom Ingram. Thereafter, the 26-year-old artfully staved off multiple race-winners Dan Cammish and Josh Cook to cement an excellent fourth at the chequered flag behind the wheel of his British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport.
Having advanced to eighth, a five-second penalty for a false start and a minor error demoted Butcher outside of the points, while Gamble had climbed to 12th when a brake problem forced him into the pits and retirement approaching mid-distance.
Collard ran up at the sharp end again in race two, until he was edged onto the grass in the closing stages, costing him positions and leaving him a frustrated ninth. Butcher was next up in tenth as the Kirkcaldy native – a former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner in the UK’s premier motorsport series – battled back from his earlier disappointment. Nottinghamshire ace Gamble similarly gained ground from the tail-end of the grid after his race one DNF to wind up 20th.
The Toyota trio subsequently ran together for a while in the day’s finale, with Collard and Butcher ultimately replicating their race two results in ninth and tenth respectively as Gamble picked up a handful of points just behind in 11th – an impressive improvement upon his starting slot.
Following a six-week break, the BTCC will continue at Croft in North Yorkshire on 29/20 July.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Oulton Park is always a big weekend for us with so many guests on-site, and Ricky treated them to what was probably one of the laps of the season on Saturday as he hustled his Corolla to third on the grid. That was a superb effort, and set him up well for a really strong points haul on race day.
“Rory ran into a few dramas in the first race, which left him on the back foot around a circuit where overtaking is a bit of a fine art, but he dug deep to take away a couple of top ten finishes later on. George similarly found his challenge compromised by his braking issue in race one, but he showed what he is capable of in race three when he gets a clean run.
“Now it’s time to go back to the workshop to analyse everything we have learned so far, regroup and re-assess – and then return ready to truly attack the second half of the season at Croft next month.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“It was a steady if unspectacular weekend, I would say. We were missing a little bit in the top ten shootout in qualifying, and at Oulton, your race day is so often conditioned by your starting position. I was on the back of the second pack of cars in race one and thought we might be able to make some inroads, but unfortunately, the penalty and small mistake then dropped us out of the points, which was frustrating.
“I was pleased to climb back into the top ten in race two, and race three was something of a journey into the unknown on the hard tyres. Still, we managed to come away with another top ten finish, and now the focus shifts to unlocking that last little bit of performance over the next few weeks that will allow us to really take the fight to the front-runners in the remaining rounds.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I was really happy with third place in qualifying. The team gave me an absolutely unreal car – the Corolla was just fantastic – and it was a proper lap, one of the best I’ve ever done around Oulton. That put us in a really good position for the races, when I was looking forward to getting my teeth stuck in. We had a lot of fans and guests supporting us and I really wanted to put on a show for them all and reward the team with that elusive podium.
“I think race one was the maximum we could do. The car felt good and I managed to keep [Dan] Cammish behind me, which was positive, although I was hoping it would come to me slightly more towards the end. It was a shame we couldn’t quite take it to the boys in front and I got roughed up a bit in race two, but we still came away with a decent sackful of points. There was no champagne again, unfortunately, but it’s coming, it’s definitely coming...”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“After struggling at Thruxton, Oulton Park was a much stronger weekend all-round. Right from the outset, we had solid pace and it was nice to be back inside the top ten in free practice, although obviously disappointing to miss out on progressing through to the shootout in qualifying by such a tiny margin. That’s the BTCC, though – it’s not the country’s toughest championship for nothing.
“Sunday was then a bit eventful, all-in-all. I was gutted to have to retire from race one with a braking issue as we were moving forwards, but to make up nine positions in race three and fight our way into the points was a mega end to the day and a very positive way to go into the summer break. It was great to receive so much support over the weekend, too – and big thanks to everybody in the team for all their hard work!”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography