Toyota Gazoo Racing UK came away from the 2023 British Touring Car Championship curtain-raiser at Donington Park last weekend (22/23 April) with a clutch of points-scoring finishes, as Rory Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble showcased the speed of the Toyota Corolla come rain and shine.Collard led the team’s charge in free practice, posting the fourth-fastest time in FP1 and going sixth-quickest in FP2 amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists, with the Toyota trio putting more than 100 laps on the board between them.
The Surrey-born star looked poised to carry that form over into qualifying, and he duly progressed through Q1 to book himself a place in the top ten shootout – only for a fuel line split in the engine to deny him a second shot and restrict him to tenth on the grid. Barely two tenths-of-a-second blanketed all three drivers, with Butcher lining up 13th and new recruit Gamble 17th on his front wheel-drive bow.
In contrastingly damp and greasy conditions the following day, with grip at a premium, Collard ran as high as fifth in the opening race in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd at the popular Leicestershire circuit. The 26-year-old ultimately took the chequered flag a strong sixth behind the wheel of his British-built Corolla GR Sport, just two spots ahead of the impressive Gamble, who battled his way up to eighth, with Butcher similarly snatching a handful of points in 11th.
As the weather worsened, Gamble – living up to his surname – opted to pit at the end of the formation lap ahead of race two to switch from slick tyres to wets. That relegated the 26-year-old local ace to the tail-end of the order, but his choice would prove to be inspired. By lap nine, he had stormed through to fourth, only for a clash at the Old Hairpin as he challenged for third to result in damage and an early bath.
Butcher similarly changed over to wets – albeit once the race was underway, dropping the Scot off the lead lap. He fought back to sneak a couple of points for 14th place, while Collard was forced out of contention by contact on lap one.
It was Butcher’s turn to find himself in the wars in the day’s finale, as the 36-year-old Kirkcaldy native – a former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner in the UK’s premier motor racing series – climbed into the top ten before slipping down the order again following a brief off-track excursion. He recovered to 11th at the flag to complete a hat-trick of points finishes, with Gamble and Collard in close company behind in 13th and 14th respectively – both from the rear of the grid.
The BTCC next moves on to Brands Hatch’s short Indy Circuit in Kent in just under a fortnight’s time (6/7 May).
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I think you could describe that as a challenging weekend for everybody, with constantly changing weather that made it a bit of a guessing game in terms of tactics and set-up. In the circumstances, while we evidently didn’t achieve the results we had been targeting, to come away with seven points finishes out of a possible nine was solid and gives us something to build upon moving forward, and there was a lot of learning and progress made along the way.
“Ricky was unfortunately affected by the inevitable teething troubles that come with running a new engine, but his pace was clear to see and he drove very well in race one for a top six result. George performed brilliantly on his debut both for the team and in front wheel-drive, showing some superb racecraft, and although his charge in race two was not in the end rewarded, his time will come. Rory, meanwhile, had a difficult weekend, but he is a class act and a proven race-winner and I have no doubt at all that he will fight back at Brands Hatch.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Three solid points scores in the bag, but obviously not what we had been aiming for. We didn’t really get the car in the window for most of the weekend. Introducing a new engine affects so many different elements, and all day Saturday, it felt like we were searching for something and I struggled to settle into a rhythm. I was on a better lap when the red flag flew towards the end of Q1, but it would probably only just have lifted us into the top ten so there was definitely still more pace to find.
“We went the wrong way on set-up for race one, which left us battling understeer and lacking speed, and we then took a gamble in race two that didn’t pay off, which kind of summed up our weekend – the cards simply didn’t fall our way. That said, we made progress throughout the day and took a big step in race three, when the Corolla felt mega and I was really in the groove. Annoyingly, I made a little mistake and ran wide, which meant I had to do it all over again, but I enjoyed coming through the field and now that we know better where we stand, we can hopefully move forward.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“From the moment we rolled out on-track, we had strong pace. The Corolla was really on-song, and after our form in free practice, we knew we had the potential in qualifying to get through to the top ten shootout. We obviously managed to achieve that and everything was working well, so to then not be able to capitalise due to the fuel line fire was a massive shame. I felt we deserved to at least have a crack at it after all the hard work that everybody had put in.
“That left us out-of-position on the grid for race one, but we scored some good points in sixth. We unfortunately made the wrong tyre choice for race two, and I got hit multiple times on the opening lap, which resulted in a front-left component failure. The Speedworks guys did a fantastic job to get the car back out again for race three and I got a blinding start, and managed to make up 12 places in total to grab a couple more points.”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“It’s a big learning curve switching from rear to front wheel-drive – it requires a completely different approach – and I feel I learned a lot over the weekend. Saturday was the first properly dry day I’ve had in the Toyota, and I was only a tenth-of-a-second away from Rory in qualifying in what was a really close session. I still need more track time to unlock those last few tenths that I’m missing, but we had a fast car and it was encouraging to come through the pack and make up so many places in races one and three.
“We made the right strategy call in race two and were up to fourth when we had a coming-together with Ronan Pearson while fighting over third. He had jumped us in the pit-lane when we changed tyres because we also adjusted the ride-height, but I was quicker and looking to get the position back. I went for a move, but unfortunately, we tangled. I’m still kicking myself about that, to be honest, because we could and should have finished on the podium.”