Rory Butcher was disappointed not to be able to end his British Touring Car Championship season on a high at Brands Hatch, with the Toyota driver battling his way to two top ten finishes in the season finale.
Butcher had gone to the Kent circuit with the possibility of ending the year higher than the sixth overall ranking in the drivers’ standings which he went into the meeting in.
In the end, the Scot concluded his first season with the Speedworks Motorsport-run squad in seventh overall in the championship, after struggling for pace on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
On Saturday, Butcher lacked the pace to challenge for the top positions in qualifying. Despite being second fastest in first practice, the Scot was just 19th on fresh rubber in qualifying, seven tenths off the pace after his second-worst qualifying session of the season.
Race one was limited in action, and thus Butcher only moved forward three places to 16th come the chequered flag.
In race two, the 34-year-old was up to eighth after avoiding some first-lap incidents, but he picked up a radiator full of grass when passing Aiden Moffat’s Infiniti for seventh halfway through the race.
Despite his engine temperature rising, Butcher was able to continue and held on to seventh until the end of the race.
Randomly drawn to start race three from third on the grid, Butcher made a poor start and dropped to seventh on the opening lap, and from there he struggled for pace, ultimately ending in ninth.
With brother-in-law Gordon Shedden finishing twice on the podium, Butcher slipped to seventh in the drivers’ standings, just four points behind Shedden.
“That was hard work,” said Butcher. “We were chasing our tails all weekend and never able to pinpoint quite what was wrong.
“Given the Corolla has been absolutely on fire in recent events, the lack of speed was unexpected to say the least.
“Several big set-up changes between qualifying and the races seemed to bring some sort of resolution, but in so doing, we ran into other issues.
“We just never found the sweet spot and were particularly struggling over the kerbs out on the ‘GP’ loop. It was difficult to stay consistent and to have the confidence to really attack.
“The car was probably at its best in race two, but the grass in the radiator caused the water temperature to shoot skywards.
“That meant I had to back off and cruise around at nine-tenths to make sure I was looking after the engine, and I came under increasing pressure from behind as the race progressed.
“I managed to get to the end without losing any positions, which was a great result – although it also went to show what might have been achievable without that problem.
“Starting from third on the grid, I felt really hopeful for race three, but we simply didn’t have the pace we thought we would.
“It was obviously disappointing for the team not to end on a high after all the effort that everybody has put in, but ultimately, that didn’t detract from a brilliant second half of the season overall.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Team Principal Christian Dick admitted that the weekend had been a challenge, but he was optimistic for next year after seeing the team find its feet during 2021 with many changes to have to deal with.
“There’s no bones about it – we had a tough weekend at Brands Hatch,” said Dick. “We were quick in free practice, but when we bolted fresh rubber on for qualifying, it changed the balance of the car in a way we hadn’t anticipated.
“That caught us off-guard and left us far further down the grid than we felt we should have been, and there was a lot of head-scratching to try to figure out the reason why.
“We made some solid progress before race one but couldn’t really demonstrate it given how little movement there was throughout the field, and we improved the Corolla even more for race two, when Rory did a great job considering the engine problems he was battling.
“We were constantly monitoring whether we would need to pit, knowing that if we did we would be consigned to the rear of the grid for race three and if we didn’t, we risked blowing the engine – it was that critical, and we were very relieved that he reached the finish.
“Looking back as a whole, we came into this season having made a lot of changes, from the expansion to two cars to a shake-up of the engineering team, two new drivers obviously and a whole raft of new staff – it was a huge upheaval, and it inevitably took a little bit of time for everything to ‘click’.
“Since that has happened, I think we have proved we are a match for anybody else in terms of raw pace, and with some more time to fine-tune everything now over the winter, we can’t wait for 2022!”