Toyota Gazoo Racing UK confirms Rory Butcher and Sam Smelt

The Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Gazoo Racing UK team has confirmed that Rory Butcher and Sam Smelt will race a pair of Toyota Corollas in the 2021 British Touring Car Championship.

Butcher moves from the Motorbase Performance team, where he was a title contender early on in the 2020 season, the Scot eventually finishing fifth overall after claiming three victories.

It marks the third different team in three seasons for Butcher, who first joined the BTCC full-time for the 2018 season with AmD Tuning, where he remained for 2019 before jumping ship.

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Smelt, meanwhile, returns to the BTCC after a two-year absence, with the 24-year-old having made his début with AmD tuning in 2018 before moving to the British GT Championship, most recently with Speedworks’ Toyota GT Supra GT4.

Ever since the departure of Tom Ingram was announced, Speedworks had been looking for an all-new line-up for 2021 as part of its expansion to two cars with Toyota UK backing.

“I’m super excited about this new challenge,” said Butcher, who has finished fifth in the drivers’ standings for the past two years.

“Moving to a Manufacturer-backed team has been a goal of mine ever since I joined the BTCC, and I have no doubt that this will give me my best chance yet of truly fighting for the championship.

“I feel hugely proud to be wearing and defending the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK colours and will give it my absolute all both on and off-track.

“I’ve known Christian [Dick, Speedworks Team Principal] for some time, going back to when we raced against each other in British GT in 2010.

“We battled it out for the GT4 title that year, so I’ve always had a lot of respect for him and have taken note of what Speedworks have achieved in the BTCC, especially in recent seasons.

“Over the past couple of years, we had a few casual conversations about maybe working together at some stage, and when the opportunity finally presented itself, I jumped at it.

“I’m also immensely grateful to my personal sponsors for their ongoing support in helping to make this deal possible, particularly during such tough economic times.

“Despite 2021 being only my fourth full season in the BTCC, the Corolla will be the fifth touring car I’ve driven so hopefully I can bring some of that knowledge to its continued development and perhaps even improve it further.

“It was arguably the most competitive car on the grid by the end of last year – the team definitely seems to have a proper handle on it now in all conditions and both with or without ballast, so I can’t wait to get behind the wheel to experience it for myself!

“Over the past 12 months, I really feel like I’ve matured as a driver, and I’m now much more capable of looking at the bigger picture and putting a championship campaign together.

“I obviously had a good crack at that in 2020, and whilst things didn’t ultimately go my way, that’s just part of the learning curve and it has unquestionably made me stronger.

“It’s all about racking up the points in this game – the podiums and wins are a bonus – and there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t be fighting at the front right from the start.”

Smelt was Butcher’s team-mate at AmD Tuning in 2018, albeit in different cars, and is looking forward to returning to touring cars as an ‘improved driver’.

“I’m massively excited to be returning to the BTCC, and to be doing so with such a strong car and team is the icing on the cake,” said Smelt.

“It was always my objective to get back into touring car racing, because I certainly have unfinished business in this championship.

“It was a tough baptism in 2018, and I’m determined to show I’m capable of an awful lot more than what I achieved that year.

“The BTCC is so ultra-competitive that you need more than a single season to get to grips with it all. I wanted a second year to be able to take advantage of everything I’d learned, but unfortunately I didn’t get that chance. Now I have.

“I’m definitely a very different driver to the one I was back then. I’ve improved a lot over the past couple of years in GTs, especially last season competing consistently towards the front and I return with far more experience of high-level racing.

“I also have a much better understanding of how to guide and shape the development of a car. It’ll obviously require a little bit of adaptation to re-adjust to the style of racing, but I’m confident that won’t take long and that I’ll quickly settle back into the groove.

“It will be fun to be reunited with Rory, too. We were team-mates back in 2018 and we had a strong relationship, so I’m looking forward to working with him again. I’ve always rated him highly as a driver, and he has shown over the past couple of years just what he can do.”

Tom Ingram, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters [Speedworks Motorsport], Toyota Corolla
Photo: BTCC Media
Team Principal Christian Dick has set the team’s expectations high for 2021, targeting all three titles for which the outfit is eligible (drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ trophies).

“We’re all delighted to welcome Rory and Sam to the team for the 2021 campaign,” said Dick. “We believe they represent the perfect blend of youth and experience and that they can help to drive us forward as we target all three titles for the first time in the BTCC.

“Rory’s calibre is clear to see. It’s easy to forget sometimes that he only has three full seasons in the championship under his belt, because he drives with all the confidence and panache of somebody that has been involved in the BTCC for much longer.

“His progress has been highly impressive – what he has accomplished since making his debut in the series is quite remarkable, and to already have two titles in his pocket is a phenomenal feat. Hopefully we can achieve the next one together.

“We have had many on-track battles with Rory, and he has always been a very hard but fair racer who leaves nothing on the table, so we are really looking forward to having him in the team.

“He brings with him a fresh perspective and new ideas, and he is a hard worker with an exemplary attitude. I have no doubt that he will be pushing for race wins in the Corolla right from the outset.

“Sam is somebody with whom we have forged a strong relationship during the past 12 months. He has been a huge asset to our British GT programme, both in terms of his performance inside the cockpit and his developmental skills out of it.

“From talking to him over the course of the campaign, it became obvious just how much he wanted to return to the BTCC.

“He is the first to admit that his rookie season in the championship was a tough one – it’s never easy for anybody to step into the BTCC, particularly when you only have one prior year of car racing behind you, and he probably wasn’t as prepared for it as he would have liked to have been.

“The intervening period has done him the world of good in enabling him to learn and improve away from the spotlight, and he showed a great deal of potential when he drove the Corolla at Snetterton. I honestly think he will surprise people this year.”

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