- Third-generation racer masters mixed conditions north of the border
- Heartbreak for home hero Butcher as star turn proves short-lived
- Gamble overcomes early ill-fortune to register points-scoring hat-trick
Toyota Gazoo Racing UK enjoyed a successful trip north of the border to Knockhill in Scotland in the British Touring Car Championship last weekend (12/13 August), with eight points finishes, a career-high score for Ricky Collard, a season’s best for George Gamble and a race-leading performance from local hero Rory Butcher.
The 36-year-old Kirkcaldy native is the qualifying lap record-holder around the tight-and-twisty, undulating Fife circuit, and he produced another excellent effort to secure fourth on the grid in the country’s premier motor racing series, barely a tenth-of-a-second shy of the outright benchmark.
After setting the pace in torrential conditions in FP1, Collard missed out on the top ten shootout in qualifying by a scant 35 thousandths-of-a-second, restricting him to 11th place. In the third of the British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport hatchbacks, George Gamble found himself on the back foot when technical issues ruled him out of FP2 and necessitated an engine change, leaving him short on preparation time and a frustrated 17th .
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras the next day and a capacity trackside crowd, race one started out dry – but it would not stay that way for long. Seven years to the day of Butcher’s BTCC debut at the circuit, the former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner went immediately on the attack, only for a challenge on Jake Hill around the outside of the hairpin to cost him a position to defending title-holder Tom Ingram.
Remaining firmly in touch with the leaders, Butcher began closing in as the heavens opened on lap six. Braving it out on slick tyres, he rose briefly to the front of the field on lap 18 – to the delight of the enthusiastic Scottish fans – but skated off-track as the weather worsened and collided with another car as he rejoined, bringing a premature end to his charge. From 23rd on the grid in race two, he then climbed eight positions for a points-paying finish, concluding his weekend by taking the chequered flag 12th in race three.
In contrast to his team-mate, Collard pitted to change over to wets in the curtain-raiser, and while that initially dropped the Surrey-born star well down the order in the high-calibre, 27-car field, it proved to be the correct decision as he went on to scythe through to sixth, which subsequently became third as a number of his rivals were penalised for various infractions.
A topsy-turvy race two saw Collard slip to seventh after an early error, but he gritted his teeth to battle back to sixth again at the flag. That put him on the front row of the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale, and following a safety car start as the rain returned with a vengeance, the third-generation racer was once more firmly in the thick of the fight, indulging in some high-flying, kerb-hopping antics on his way to a fine fifth place, making him the third-highest scorer of the weekend.
Indeed, Collard’s career-best haul in the BTCC has elevated the 27-year-old to eighth in the championship standings, and extended his unbroken run of points finishes to an impressive 14.
Gamble similarly switched to wets in race one, which paid off handsomely as he wound up eighth to seal a second consecutive top ten result, before indulging in a duel with four-time champion Colin Turkington in the next outing on his way to 11th – helping Toyota to clinch the manufacturers’ trophy for that race.
The 27-year-old Nottinghamshire ace then completed a full house of points finishes by holding off former championship runner-up Dan Cammish for ninth in the third and final contest, with the result cementing his highest combined score since joining the Speedworks Motorsport-run outfit.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“We’ve definitely made some gains with the Corolla since Croft, and we went to Knockhill feeling in pretty good shape. We showed in free practice that the car was quick in both the wet and the dry, and Rory excelled in qualifying to end up so close to pole. Ricky didn’t quite put the lap together but his pace was clear to see, while George was always going to be up against it after missing all of FP2 and in the circumstances, he performed admirably.
“Race day was then equally wild, and all three drivers battled hard throughout. Ricky and George built a very solid foundation in the first one – and we were delighted to see Ricky finally come away with a top three finish – but Rory’s luck ran out when the rain came as his gamble to stay on slicks unfortunately backfired.
“It was fantastic to take the manufacturers’ trophy in race two and we completed the weekend with another very solid result in race three, so all-in-all, in what were very challenging conditions, I think we can say it was a job well done.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I’m still licking my wounds after that one! The team gave me a great car in qualifying, and hustling my Corolla to fourth on the grid felt incredible – it was so close at the front of the field and came right down to the finest margins – but the unpredictable conditions on Sunday made things difficult for everyone.
“I chose to roll the dice in race one. Based on what the track was like at the time, I felt I could make the slick tyres work and thought pitting for wets would be a risk. That clearly didn’t end well, and ultimately turned our day upside-down. I’m super proud of everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing UK for backing me 100 per cent after my error of judgement and for turning my car around so quickly afterwards. We are a team and we win and lose together.
“Huge respect also to all the spectators who travelled far and wide to brave the elements. The circuit banks were still full for race three despite the monsoon-like rain, and I’m sorry we couldn’t reward them with a podium finish. It was a tough weekend for me overall, but I’m finding many positives to take away and while the results aren’t coming yet, the pace is. It won’t be long before we’re back fighting for trophies.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The Corolla felt mega in FP1 and it was great to be so quick out-of-the-box. I never shy away from conditions like that, and I was doing a few rain dances as I really wanted it to stay wet. The car was well hooked-up in qualifying too, but I didn’t manage to get a clear lap in at the end of the session when the track was at its best.
“Race day was a lot of fun, I have to say. The first one was just crazy, but we made the right call on tyres and kept it on the black stuff; after having a top three finish taken away from us more than once, it was a good feeling to end up third.
“We were in contention for the podium in the other two races as well, but I made a couple of mistakes in the conditions – as did most drivers, to be fair – and it was still satisfying to come away with a couple of top sixes. Most of all, though, I enjoyed being properly in the fight. I’m a racer and I like to go racing – and we certainly did that!”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I normally go really well at Knockhill, and the weekend started out positively in FP1. I was very happy in the car, but unfortunately, we had an engine malfunction before FP2, which meant I didn’t turn a lap in that session and consequently couldn’t do the fine-tuning we would normally do.
“The team put in a huge effort to swap the engine over before qualifying so I owe a massive thanks to them all, but still, we were in at the deep end a little bit. The only saving grace was that the weather kept changing, which mitigated our disadvantage slightly, and having come through the field well at Knockhill from further down the grid before, I knew it was far from over.
“It was great to be in the mix all day on Sunday, and to bag good points in all three races – while showing some really strong pace in the wet – was fantastic. Hopefully this will prove to be a turning-point for the rest of the season and we can keep our scoring run going into the remaining races.”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography