Toyota Gazoo Racing UK is Donington Park-bound for the second time in 2023 this weekend (26/27 August), as the British Touring Car Championship returns to the circuit’s famous Grand Prix layout following an absence of more than two decades.
In many ways, Donington Park is home soil for the team, located less than 15 miles away from Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK) in Burnaston, where the road-going Toyota Corolla – the world’s best-selling car – is produced.
The race-tuned version of the popular Japanese hatchback – the Speedworks Motorsport-prepared Corolla GR Sport – notched up the first of its 11 BTCC victories to-date at Donington four years ago, and the Leicestershire circuit has been a happy hunting-ground for all three Toyota Gazoo Racing UK drivers in the past.
Former Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner Rory Butcher has reached the rostrum four times at Donington in the UK’s premier motor racing series – twice behind the wheel of the Corolla. Prior to that, the 36-year-old Kirkcaldy native raced on the ‘GP’ loop in British GT in 2014 and 2016, taking the chequered flag inside the top five on both occasions.
Team-mate Ricky Collard similarly has experience of Donington’s extended, 2.49-mile layout from the BRDC British F3 Championship seven years ago. The 27-year-old Surrey-born star – who tallied a career-high points haul last time out at Knockhill – lapped an encouraging third-quickest around the ‘GP’ circuit during the annual Goodyear tyre test earlier this summer, a scant 0.15 seconds adrift of the outright benchmark.
George Gamble, meanwhile, is the local lad at Donington, hailing from just up the road in Nottingham. He ascended the BTCC podium for the first time there last year in only his second start in the championship, and was challenging for silverware again at the track on his Toyota Gazoo Racing UK bow back in April until a clash spelled an early bath. The 27-year-old won on the ‘GP’ layout four times in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge in 2013 and 2014 – securing him the coveted crown in the second of those seasons.
Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session will be streamed on ITV Sport’s YouTube channel from 15:30, with every moment of Sunday’s doorhandle-to-doorhandle action to be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4 from 11:15.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge this weekend. We’re all very used to Donington’s National circuit, of course, and while on paper, the ‘GP’ loop doesn’t add a great deal in terms of length or complexity, it does change the characteristics of the lap, as we saw during the tyre test last month.
“With two additional hairpins to navigate, braking capability will be key, and that has always been one of the Toyota’s major strengths. Granted, it will also play in the favour of the rear wheel-drive cars, but the Corolla has a superbly well-balanced chassis, which is important through the mid-speed sections at Donington, so I think we should be in with a solid shout, and the goal is to give all of our friends and colleagues from TMUK something to really cheer about.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“Donington GP is one of the real classic tracks on the UK motorsport calendar. It’s obviously famous as the scene of one of Ayrton Senna’s most legendary drives 30 years ago, and I enjoyed racing there in the British GT Championship – it’s got a real mix of every type of corner, from the fast-and-flowing Craner Curves to the two tight hairpins at the end of the lap.
“I’m certainly fired-up after not coming away with the results we wanted or felt we deserved at Knockhill, but the biggest positive we took from there was that we were genuinely on the front-running pace. While Donington is a whole other type of circuit, we’ve finished on the podium there before – and that is clearly the objective again this weekend.”
Ricky Collard, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I don’t necessarily have the best memories of Donington GP in terms of results, but it’s definitely a fun circuit to drive and we went well there at the mid-season tyre test. Admittedly, you never know what kind of programme anybody else is running on days like that, but it’s always good to be up towards the sharp end and I want to keep the momentum going after our strong weekend at Knockhill.
“The wide, open nature of the two hairpins at the end of the lap will encourage overtaking, which will be great for the fans, although that will also make it harder for us to keep the rear wheel-drive cars behind due to their superior traction on the exit. Still, everyone knows I enjoy a challenge – so bring it on!”
George Gamble, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I love racing at Donington, and it’s been good to me in the past. As my home circuit, I receive a lot of support there from family, friends and sponsors. The aim is to put on a great performance for them all, and I really think we can do that.
“We were quick in the wet on the National layout earlier this year, and I now have much more experience in the Corolla, so will hopefully be on a stronger footing from the get-go. The weather looks like it may be a bit changeable again, which is something we will need to deal with, but I feel like I’ve genuinely turned a corner recently in terms of getting used to front wheel-drive, and it will be good to gauge that progress on a circuit that – for the most part at least – we have already visited this season.”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography