TOYOTA GAZOO RACING UK BIDDING TO BUILD ON BTCC MOMENTUM AT BRANDS HATCH
Toyota Gazoo Racing UK returns to a happy hunting ground this weekend (26/27 June), as the Speedworks Motorsport-run squad travels to Brands Hatch for the third outing of the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship calendar buoyed by its first podium of the season last time out. Following a difficult start to the campaign at Thruxton – where the pace and potential of the team’s Toyota Corolla GR Sport went unrewarded – Toyota Gazoo Racing UK enjoyed a much more successful trip to Snetterton with Scotsman Rory Butcher speeding to a trio of top six finishes – including a well-deserved rostrum in the opener. The 34-year-old Kirkcaldy native – a former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner – boasts an excellent record around Brands’ short Indy configuration, which never fails to generate spectacular entertainment. Scene of his breakthrough win in the country’s premier motor racing series in 2019, Butcher has prevailed at the Kent circuit in each of the past two seasons – in different cars – and is aiming to complete the hat-trick in Speedworks’ British-built Corolla this weekend. Team-mate Sam Smelt made his BTCC debut at Brands Hatch in 2018 and, while that represents his only prior appearance around the 1.2-mile Indy loop, he is eager to demonstrate the progress he has made over the intervening three years when he returns to the track. After persistent problems scuppered his chances at Snetterton, the 24-year-old Northampton-born ace is fired-up to fight his way back into the points-paying positions this time out. Northwich-based Speedworks – two times a BTCC Independent Teams’ title-winner – secured its maiden victory in the series at Brands Indy in 2016, repeating the feat with further triumphs there over the following two campaigns. What’s more, the Corolla – contesting just its second season in the championship – was the only car in the field to achieve a full house of podium finishes at the circuit last November, leading to high hopes for another strong points haul this weekend. Every moment of the wheel-to-wheel action will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV3 on Sunday (27 June), beginning at 1100. “It’s fair to say we will travel to Brands Hatch with a much bigger spring in our step after Snetterton,” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “We didn’t go there looking to grab any headlines, but rather to keep our heads down and proceed quietly about our business, and that approach clearly paid off. Three top six finishes and a first podium of the season was just reward for everybody’s stellar efforts. “We now need to make sure we carry that form forward, and Brands Hatch has traditionally been a successful circuit for us, with some very happy memories. History has shown that we know how to make a car work around the short, technical Indy layout, and the Corolla was the highest scorer in the field there last year, which gives us a lot of reasons to feel optimistic going into the weekend.” “I’m feeling very positive,” said Butcher. “It’s nice to be heading into a new event looking to build upon some momentum, rather than needing to fight back as was the case after Thruxton. The five-week break before Snetterton gave us the opportunity to reset and our aim there was three decent points finishes, which is exactly what we delivered to haul ourselves up into the top six in the championship standings. Now we’ve got that monkey off our back, we can crack on.
“I’m continuing to find my feet in the Corolla and learning more every time I get behind the wheel. It clearly has the potential to win races because it’s done so before, so now it comes down to nailing that sweet spot – and ultimately, our strategy remains the same. We’re still playing catch-up to a certain extent, so we need to keep on bagging the points and hopefully pick up some more silverware. To win at Brands Hatch for the third year in a row and in a third different car, well, that would just be a dream…” “The good thing about it being a short gap between Snetterton and Brands Hatch is that we’ve got the opportunity to quickly put that weekend behind us and move on – it’s not like we’ve got six weeks to sit and dwell upon what happened,” contemplated Smelt. “We’ve left no stone unturned to ensure we get to the bottom of the issues, and I’m fully focused on bouncing back at Brands and putting all of those wrongs right. “My BTCC debut was actually the only previous time I’ve raced around the Indy circuit, and there was obviously a lot to take in that weekend. I’m looking forward to going back now without that ‘new boy’ pressure and with more experience under my belt. “With its short lap and the close-fought nature of the BTCC, the finer margins will make even more of a difference than usual, so it’s really important that we are on top of our game – particularly in qualifying, when the times will be incredibly tight. It’s vital that we maximise every single area of our performance, and dealing effectively with the traffic to get some clear laps in will be key, especially as overtaking won’t be massively easy. Hopefully we can conquer that challenge and take a step up the grid.”