Toyota Gazoo Racing UK adopting ‘aggressive’ approach ahead of Thruxton return
Rory Butcher aiming to fulfil podium-challenging promise from season-opener
Sam Smelt in optimistic mood as he heads back to scene of first BTCC points
British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport boasts strong previous record in Hampshire
The last time the British Touring Car Championship visited Thruxton, back at the beginning of the 2021 campaign, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK was firmly in the mix for pole position and the podium. This weekend (28/29 August), the team returns to the high-speed Hampshire circuit with its focus fixed on finishing the job.
As the fastest track in the country, Thruxton poses a unique challenge, but it was one that Rory Butcher and Sam Smelt mastered earlier in the year on their maiden appearance behind the wheel of the Speedworks Motorsport-run, British-built Toyota Corolla GR Sport.
Scotsman Butcher fought for pole in qualifying, achieved a top five finish on his debut for the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit in race one and was running third in race two until he found himself caught out by cold tyres. The 34-year-old Kirkcaldy native – the 2019 BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner – has since gone on to triumph at Oulton Park, and is fired-up to fight back following a frustrating outing on home soil at Knockhill a week-and-a-half ago.
Team-mate Smelt turned 25 earlier this week and is hoping to celebrate his milestone on-track at Thruxton, scene of his first BTCC points-scoring finish. The Northampton-born ace has shown a real upturn in form in recent events in both qualifying and the races, and whilst Lady Luck has not often been on his side, he is eager to kick-start the second half of the campaign by adding to his tally in the UK’s premier motor racing series.
Every moment of Sunday’s wheel-to-wheel action will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4, beginning at 11:10am.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“We’re all very much looking forward to going back to Thruxton this weekend. The last time we were there, nether Rory nor Sam had that many miles under their belts in the Corolla, but they both nonetheless delivered a strong performance, which gives us plenty of encouragement as we prepare to return.
“The intervening months have allowed us to really refine and develop the car, equipping us with much more data and a far better understanding of how to adapt it to each driver’s specific requirements.
“The past three race weekends have yielded a win and two fastest laps, which proves the Corolla’s pace and potential, and we saw back in May that it is well-suited to Thruxton and that both Rory and Sam are capable of extracting the very best out of it round there.
“Our results at Knockhill fell some way below expectations, but that only motivates us even more to dig deeper than ever and push for the podium with what we know is a very quick car. They say fortune favours the brave and Thruxton certainly rewards a bold approach – and we’re ready to adopt an aggressive strategy as we embark upon the second half of the season.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I’m excited to go back to Thruxton. We were competitive there in May, so the plan is very much to reproduce that form if not better, and there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t achieve that. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I feel so much more at home in the Corolla now, and we’re continuing to make progress every time we take to the track.
“It’ll be good to return to a circuit we’ve already raced at this season, but with a car that is far more suited to my driving style and what I need from it. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to hit the ground running straightaway, because the temperature and track conditions could be very different this weekend, but we do know that whatever is thrown at us, we now have enough tools in our back pocket to make the car quick.
“One benefit of not scoring well last time is that we’re not carrying any ballast, and whilst that’s clearly not ideal from a championship perspective, you only have to look at the points haul that Colin [Turkington] took away from Knockhill after arriving with not much weight on-board to appreciate what is possible. We’re just waiting for that weekend where everything finally clicks, and we’re getting closer all the time.
“It was strange to see the grandstands and banking completely empty at Thruxton earlier this season, and it was so refreshing to have the fans back at Knockhill and really feel their enthusiasm. Hopefully we can draw upon their support again this weekend and put on a fantastic show for them all.”
Sam Smelt, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“I have no doubt that the Corolla will be strong at Thruxton, just like it was earlier in the year and I’ve obviously got good memories from scoring my first BTCC points at the track. Front wheel-drive cars tend to go well there, and we will return with a prior understanding of how the Corolla behaves around the circuit, a lot more seat time and all the additional confidence that brings – so we will immediately be starting off from a better place.
“We have been improving and developing the Corolla every weekend, and I’ve been increasingly getting used to it, which I think can be seen from our general step forward in both qualifying and race pace – even if we didn’t necessarily get to show that at Knockhill. I take a lot of encouragement from Rory’s performance in recent rounds because that proves what is possible – we just need a bit of luck on our side of the garage now.
“Hopefully qualifying will be more straightforward than at Knockhill, and it looks like the weather will be consistent throughout the weekend too, which always helps. If we can get off to a good start on Saturday morning and have a trouble-free practice, I’m confident we can be there-or-thereabouts and the goal is definitely to add to our points total this weekend. I’m really looking forward to it.”