By Mick Palmer
One of the final pieces of the BTCC puzzle has been slotted into place with the announcement that the Speedworks run Toyota outfit will retain Rory Butcher and Ricky Collard, as well as adding former Ciceley racer George Gamble and a new engine, for the 2023 season.
The release of the information closes speculation surrounding the team over who the third driver would be with a litany of names being connected to the position. With additional news on the driver front still to come from One Motorsport (formerly BTC Racing) it would appear that the line-up for the upcoming year in the series is almost complete.
The switch from a TOCA engine to a Neil Brown built Toyota engine follows a trend being set by Hyundai backed Excelr8 for manufacturer and tuning specialists to take their own direction away from the series’ supplied engine. The unit has already been run on track at Anglesey and is awaiting it’s first runs with the Cosworth Hybrid System in place.
The team – which for many years ran current champion Tom Ingram as a single entry – officially enters a trio of machines for the first time (having run a third Hybrid development car at Silverstone in 2021) and Team Principal Christian Dick does see the advantages to that. “It’s a significant challenge to expand from two cars to three,” he said. “At the same time, having three sets of data to cross-reference should allow us to make progress faster than we’ve ever done before. The new engine is also a key factor. The TOCA unit has played an important role in our success down the years in the BTCC, but to take the final step and really fight for the championship, we needed control over all elements of the package – and that is what we now have.”
The retention of Rory Butcher for a third season in a row cements the plans that the team have for developing a car that has developed a bit of a reputation of being a Silverstone special, given that almost half of the Corolla wins have come at the circuit. “I feel like I’m going into 2023 in the best shape so far, not just in terms of the updates brought to the Corolla but also in terms of the people I have around me,” Butcher stated. “It’s great to have that continuity of team and car for the third year in a row, and having ended last season so strongly, I really want to pick up from where we left off and be right in the mix and gunning for glory from the outset.”
Ricky Collard called time on his BTCC career at the end of last year, but has reversed that choice. “It’s no secret that some tough times last year made me seriously question my future in racing and whether or not I should carry on,” he explained. “But there were also a lot of positives and after talking very openly and honestly with Christian [Dick] and John [Gilbert – Speedworks Managing Director] over the winter, I realised I wanted to give this my very best shot in a competitive package, which is what I believe we’ve got. The Corolla clearly has great potential and I really appreciate all the hard work that Toyota are putting in. The future looks very bright for this team, and I absolutely want to be a part of that.”
After taking a first win in the championship at Knockhill in his debut year George Gamble appears to be the driver with the most work to do in the team. After racing predominantly rear-wheel drive machines Gamble has a little more learning to do, on top of being behind his team mates in terms of current tenure. “Joining Toyota Gazoo Racing UK is a mega opportunity for me in only my second year in the championship,” he said. “To be associated with one of the world’s leading manufacturers – which is successful in pretty much everything it turns its hand to – is massive, and I think I’m in a really good position. It takes a season to properly acclimatise to the BTCC because it’s just so different to any other series and the racing is incredibly hard, but now I know much more what to expect, I can hopefully hit the ground running. There’s tremendous motivation inside this team; everybody really wants to win, and it’s great to be in such a competitive environment. I’m really excited.”
The squad will begin testing properly next week before the media day/joint test at Brands Hatch next month as a precursor to the Donington Park season opener.