Toyota Gazoo Racing UK found itself battling challenging and changeable weather in the British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone last weekend (23/24 September), but conquered the conditions to come away with a Manufacturers’ trophy and another very solid set of points finishes.
After putting 133 laps on the board between them during free practice, Rory Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble went into qualifying at the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ all targeting a spot in the top ten showdown.
While Butcher progressed safely through and went on to book himself a starting position of ninth amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists in the UK’s premier motor racing series, his team-mates unfortunately missed the cut in the closely-contested session, with Collard a frustrated 16th and Gamble down in 23rd after grappling with an oil leak.
Light rain as the cars sat on the grid ahead of race one the following day threw strategy calculations into disarray, and left teams scratching their heads over tyre selection. All three Toyota drivers opted to remain on slicks, but Gamble then pitted at the end of the formation lap to bolt wet-weather rubber onto his British-built Corolla GR Sport.
The Nottinghamshire ace’s choice initially paid off as he scythed through the spray from virtually the back of the field up into the top ten – setting a new fastest lap along the way – but as the track subsequently began drying out again, he slipped down to 15th at the chequered flag.
Collard similarly held fastest lap for a while, but his efforts were hamstrung after he was innocently caught up in contact on the opening tour, restricting the Surrey-born star to 20th place. Scotsman Butcher, meanwhile, was rewarded for boldly sticking to his guns as he climbed the order in the closing stages to snatch sixth on the final lap, finishing as the best-placed driver on slicks and playing a major role in Toyota’s successful acquisition of the Manufacturers’ trophy for the second consecutive race.
The 36-year-old Kirkcaldy native spearheaded the team’s push in the next contest, too, as he skilfully vied for a podium finish throughout in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd. Following an energetic and entertaining scrap, Butcher ultimately wound up fourth – less than a second shy of the rostrum – while Collard came through to grab a couple of points for 14th.
Gamble was running a competitive 12th – and on-course to secure the reversed grid pole position – when a puncture put paid to his bid, but the 27-year-old bounced back with a point-scoring charge in race three. Collard saved his best until last in the day’s finale, with a strong drive to seventh, while Butcher was collected as collateral damage in somebody else’s accident, abruptly ending the former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner’s chances of another top six finish.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Silverstone was a mixed bag overall, and we didn’t come away with the results we were hoping for. Race one was messy for everybody; it would have been very easy to make the wrong decision, as plenty of people did, but we came out of it with a good finish for Rory and the Manufacturers’ trophy, which was great. George made the call to change to wets, which split the strategy up a little bit, and he was flying until the conditions then reverted back in favour of the slick-shod runners towards the end.
“Rory was similarly strong in race two and Ricky made good progress from the back of the grid, but yet again, we saw that poor George just can’t catch a break. He’s really struggling to get a clean run, but once he does, he’s shown he can be genuinely in the mix.
“What happened to Rory in race three after a blinding opening few corners was such a shame, and he was completely blameless. Thankfully he’s ok and the damage to the car isn’t as bad as it could be, and it was a better race for Ricky with a really good seventh-place finish. While it clearly wasn’t a stellar weekend overall, we were solid and consistent and showed that the Corolla is there-or-thereabouts, so I think we can feel reasonably content.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I’ve got to admit, 22 laps on slick tyres on a damp track in race one felt like a long time – it was pretty treacherous out there! It took a while to generate temperature in the fronts, but by mid-distance, I was beginning to make inroads into the guys on wets. The top three had built up such a gap early on that it was impossible to get near the podium spots, but we made progress and that was very encouraging.
“Race two was fun, with a lot of enjoyable battles. Fourth was a very solid finish and the car felt great. I felt like we had the pace on a few of the guys starting in front of us again in race three so the goal was to keep it clean, be assertive and make up some more ground, but obviously that wasn’t to be through no fault of our own. Still, it was nice to show our speed in both the dry and the wet at Silverstone, and now we’ll look to take that form forward with us into the final weekend of the season.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Qualifying was frustrating. I was less than two tenths-of-a-second behind Rory in Q1, which I put down to that little bit of hybrid that I was lacking compared to him, since we saw that hybrid made quite a big difference at Silverstone.
“I absolutely thrive in the kind of conditions that we had in race one – I love all the drifting on slick tyres on a wet track and I made a great start and was somehow up behind Rory going into Brooklands. Unfortunately, Colin Turkington then got spun round and as he came back across the track, he just avoided Rory but he cleaned me out.
“That damaged the front of my car and was a real missed opportunity, because with the pace we had, I believe we could have finished on the podium. Unfortunately, we came away with nothing to show for it but I tried my best again in race two and was really happy with my performance in race three – I think that was the maximum we could do. Big thanks to the team for another faultless job.”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“That was a tough weekend overall. We had an oil leak in qualifying, which kept catching the rear wheels and left me struggling for back-end grip. The team took the engine and gearbox out, which seemed to sort it but still, it meant we were on the back foot right from the outset.
“Starting so low down, we decided to roll the dice in race one and made the call to go onto wets at the end of the formation lap. We had a really good run and got up to tenth, but slipped to 15th as it began to dry out again.
“The puncture in race two then scuppered any chance of benefitting from the reversed grid draw, and the BTCC is so competitive and so close that it’s hard to bounce back – you really need to keep the momentum flowing. Taking the positives, to gain eight places in race three was good. Now bring on Brands!”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography