NORTHWICH-BASED Speedworks Motorsport have unveiled their driver line-up for the 2021 British Touring Car Championship season.

In what is their first season as a two-car operation, they have confirmed Rory Butcher and Sam Smelt will be behind the wheel of their Toyota Corollas to spearhead their push for glory on all fronts.

Under the banner of Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, they will fight for the drivers’, manufacturers’ and teams’ title in the upcoming campaign.

In 33-year-old Scotsman Butcher, they have recruited a driver who is one of the most highly-rated in the BTCC paddock having won the Independents’ title in 2019.

The opening race at Thruxton on the weekend of May 8-9 will be his 100th BTCC start and his previous 99 have included six victories, 14 podium finishes, three pole positions and five fastest laps.

“I’m super excited about this new challenge,” he said.

“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 is familiar to the Speedworks team having piloted their Toyota GR Supra GT4 in last year’s British GT Championship.

The 24-year-old competed in BTCC back in 2018 and is excited to make the step up once again.

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

“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.

“I really enjoyed my season with Speedworks in British GT and I followed the team’s BTCC progress closely, culminating in the opportunity to test the Corolla myself at Snetterton a couple of months ago.

“Even though it was a wet day, the car felt great and I was able to get an initial impression of it.

“It was good to be back in front wheel-drive machinery and whilst there was nobody else there to gauge myself against, I got a decent amount of mileage under my belt and everything seemed very positive.”