Toyota are currently a motorsports powerhouse. They’re an omnipotent force in the World Rally Championship, had all but monopolised the LMP1 class in sportscar racing, and have now given their full factory backing to a British Touring Car Championship team.
The Japanese marque have offered manufacturer support to the Speedworks Motorsport team, who were previously using the Toyota Corolla with Tom Ingram. However now Ingram has moved on, and Speedworks have two works Corolla’s to be driven by talented Scot Rory Butcher, and the returning Sam Smelt.
The Corolla has shown itself to be a fast car at the hands of Ingram since its introduction in 2019. It has won seven races over the last two years and has kept Ingram in the title fight for large proportions of those seasons. Now with two cars, Speedworks has the chance to really push for honours this season.
They’re no strangers to the BTCC, they won two drivers and manufacturers championships in 1986 and 1987, courtesy of Chris Hodgetts. Also two of the most memorable moments in BTCC history include Toyota’s, but perhaps not for the best of reasons. In 1992 at Brands Hatch team mates Andy Rouse and Will Hoy collided and took each other in to the wall and out of the race while running first and second.
The other incident came a year later at Silverstone. Hoy was involved again but this time with Julian Bailey as a team mate. Going into Brooklands, Bailey dove down the inside of Hoy, sending him onto his roof. The moment entered folklore thanks to the late Murray Walker’s famous line, “The car upside down, is a Toyota.” They were again leading one-two.
In terms of the drivers, Rory Butcher has proven himself to be a fast and consistent driver over the last couple of seasons. Six wins in the last two years with AMD CobraSport and Motorbase. His expertise is front wheel drive, having spent his whole BTCC career in front wheel drive machinery. Therefore he’s well suited to lead the new manufacturer team.
Sam Smelt only has one season of BTCC experience under his belt, in the AMD Audi S3 in 2018. While he hasn’t quite hit the heights of his team mate, Smelt has potential, having spent 2020 in British GT with Speedworks in the Toyota Supra GT4.
Toyota’s latest motorsport offering has all the ingredients to be as successful as its stablemates, it’ll have its challengers from other teams on the grid, but the Corolla, and two talented drivers, mean it could well be a start of a beautiful relationship for Speedworks and Toyota.
We will have articles throughout the week to preview the 2021 BTCC season as well as race reports at the weekend from Thruxton.