The 2023 racing season for the British Touring Cars Championship is here! After a rollercoaster of highs and lows last season, we couldn’t be happier to dive back into the action. This year Car Gods are sponsoring a stellar line up of talent that represents the Toyota Gazoo UK racing team; Rory Butcher who is now onto his third consecutive campaign behind the wheel of Toyota Gazoo Racing UK’s British-built Corolla GR Sport - a former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner, we are looking forward to seeing the spectacle he has in store for us this season.
Joining him is Ricky Collard, finishing inside the points in half of the races in 2022 after three years away from the BTCC competition showcasing that he is still a force to be reckoned with! And lastly a familiar face to us but a new member to Toyota Gazoo team is George Gamble, onto his sophomore season after a standout rookie season, he is bound to consolidate last year’s racing experience to climb even higher this season.
On to the season opening, Donington Park once again hosts event and is the first of the two visits to the Leicestershire venue during this year’s championship. The sweeping corners and fast back section lived up to the hype over the weekend producing a spectacular race as the circuit adds another chapter to its long and illustrious history. First visited by the BTCC all the way back in 1977, Donnington Park has been the scene of a host of many memorable touring car moments which will live in the memory of fans all over the world for a lifetime!
A wet and wild start to the season with picturesque views and a huge spectator area for all to view. Drivers Rory Butcher, Ricky Collard and George Gamble showcased the speed of the Toyota Corolla come rain or shine. Collard had led the team in free practice by posting the 4th
fastest time in FP1 and being 6th
fastest amongst the competition with Toyota as the trio collectively put more than 100 laps on the board between them.
Although in damp and greasy conditions on the following day, Collard was able to produce a spectacular performance by running as high as 5th in the opening race. Collard was able to finish strong with a 6th place finish and following shortly behind was race-mate George Gamble who was able to secure an 8th place finish and Rory Butcher securing a handful of points being able to finish with the 11th Spot.
Unfortunately, as the weather progressively got worse, Gamble opted to pit at the end of the formulation lap of race two to switch his tyres to wets. This resulted in relegating him to the tail end of the order until lap 9 where he had breezed through to fourth where he would have a clash at the old harpin. Butcher followed suit changing over wets and was able to fight back to sneak a couple of points for 14th Place. On the final day, Butcher was able to climb his way into the top 10 of the race before unfortunately slipping down following a brief off-track excursion. However, he was able to recover an 11th place spot to complete an impressive hat-trick of points finishes with Gamble and Collard not far behind securing 13th and 14th place respectively both from the rear of the grid.
Rory Butcher: “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: “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: “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.”
The team overall put on a great showing with Ricky Collard finishing the event in 15th with 12 points, Rory Butcher finishing the race in 16th with 12 points and George Gamble finishing the race in 18th with 11 points. Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship take place at Brands Hatch on 6/7 May.