Following a dramatic start to the season in which a maiden European Le Mans Series victory eluded Rory Butcher, the Scot took the top step of the podium at the Four Hours of Red Bull Ring last month.
Alongside JMW Motorsport co-drivers Rob Smith and Andrea Bertolini, the 29-year-old sealed the GTE class win in Austria, in the No. 66 Ferrari F458 Italia.
However, the win was long overdue, says Butcher, who is in his first full-time ELMS season after graduating from British GT.
“I was delighted,” he told Sportscar365. “Because of Silverstone, it felt double good to finally get that victory, get it on the CV, and also just to push us back up into the championship fight.”
It isn’t as though JMW has been down on pace so far this season, though. As Butcher explained, the team scored the class win at the season-opening Four Hours of Silverstone in April, only to lose it in post-race scrutineering a few hours later due to a front splitter infringement.
“It was quite hard to take at the time, but we just kept our heads down,” Butcher said.
Following that, a second-place class finish at Imola in May could have been bettered, if not for the weather, he argues.
“Imola was good, and I think we had the pace to win, if it wasn’t for the safety car that came out due to the rain,” Butcher said. “We felt like this win was going to come sometime soon, and it came at Red Bull.”
Heading into the second half of the season, with races at Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Estoril left to run, the JMW drivers are certainly in the title fight.
They sit in third in the GTE standings, just five points behind the leading Ferrari of AT Racing. With 25 points for a win and three races left on the calendar, the title is still all to play for.
“I don’t think we need to win every race, we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, and being consistent,” Butcher said.
“The goal would be to be on the podium at every event, which I think is doable. We’ll see where we are at Estoril.”
Looking at the GTE category as a whole, Butcher praises it for its quality of competition, despite being the smallest class on the grid.
“There’s only eight cars, but within those eight cars, you’ve got either a works driver or someone very close to being a works driver in [every] team,” he said.
“Each will have some sort of link with a manufacturer. AF Corse, even JMW has a link through Andrea, then you’ve got the Proton Porsche squad, and then the Aston Martin guys.
“As well as the Gold and Platinum drivers, the Silvers are also at a good level. If you look at [Alessandro] Pier Guidi, he’s now looking like a fully-fledged works driver. It’s good to be amongst those kind of guys.”
However, there has been significant controversy this year, especially at Imola, regarding the pace of the LMP3 field and how the P3 back-markers have reacted to often faster GTE traffic.
This has added another, and perhaps unexpected, challenge to the GTE field.
“I guess it’s another skill that you need to learn, and really it’s being able to work with another class, so that you don’t lose time and so they don’t either,” Butcher said.
“Certain drivers, it’s been really easy to work with, because sometimes they’ll ease off the gas on the straight and allow the car through.
“But there have also been difficult times, like at Imola. I got caught behind an LMP3 car for maybe ten laps – I must have been losing a second a lap behind him – and he was defending!
“We ended up having to get the team to go down to his pit box, and argue face-to-face as to why he should move out of the way for me. We were fighting for the lead, and they were outside of their points.
“If we all worked together, and realized that we’re not fighting in the same class, it would work really well. Either that, or they need to maybe un-restrict the LMP3 class a bit more so they have better performance.”
Next weekend, the ELMS series returns to action at Paul Ricard, the race in which Butcher made his series debut last year, finishing third in class in the JMW Ferrari.
“I feel we can do a good job again,” he said. “I like the flow of the circuit, and I like the high-speed stuff near the end of the track into Turn 9. I really enjoy it, so here’s hoping we can get another result.”
Before Paul Ricard, though, he is set for his debut in VLN, racing a BMW M235i Racing Cup for Walkenhorst Motorsport on the legendary Nordschleife.
“I’m trying to expand my horizons a little bit, and I’ve been keeping an eye on the VLN series for a couple of years,” he said.
“I am competing twice; this weekend and once in October. My ultimate goal is to get my ‘A’ permit and compete in the GT3 [class] next year.
“The circuit itself is the most challenging circuit in the world so I’ll have to give that respect this year, and just try to gain as much experience as I can.
“My goal is to speak to as many teams as possible and see what opportunities are available.”