HIS rookie season in the British Touring Car Championship is behind him, and he has left his trusty MG behind as well. Now all Rory Butcher has to try to do this campaign is leave the rest of the grid in his wake.

Last week, Butcher got to see just how quick he could be during the joint media and test day around Brands Hatch, and he was impressed with what he and his new Honda Civic achieved.

“It was the first time we could see on the timing boards where we were compared to the opposition. There were all sorts of games going on during the day; people were running with more weight, less weight, using scrubbed tyres, then having new tyres for every run. We were running well within ourselves, but at the end of the day, I think it was quite obvious people were just throwing everything at it and just going for broke to put down a marker. But we were in amongst it.”

It proved a successful day for the Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Honda Civic drivers with Butcher fastest across the morning session, eventually finishing fifth quickest on the day with team-mate Sam Tordoff fastest of all, 0.146 secs ahead of the Scot.

Butcher said: “I think it was quite important for teams and manufact-urers to capture the headlines on the media day, getting that attention and putting a bit of doubt in the minds of others. But the only time that will matter is on Saturday come first qual-ifying at Brands Hatch. Everyone will be running without success ballast and trying to get up the sharp end of the starting grid. Now, that will be interesting.”

Last season, there was the feeling that Butcher was having to drive the wheels off the MG just to stay competitive. This time around, the Honda Civic is a far more developed and competitive package, “well sorted” as Butcher himself describes it.

“If we can get a handle on the Honda, and push it to its limits, then you are going to be somewhere in the mix. That’s the feeling I’m getting every time I sit in the car. It’s giving me that little bit more confidence to push on, and hopefully, get to the business end of the pack.

“It is what I needed coming into my second season, stepping up in to a well-developed piece of kit. There are not many chassis or cars which have had the development and attention to detail over the years as the Honda. It’s now down to the drivers to deliver.”

Run over 10 different tracks (though it visits both the Indy and Grand Prix circuits at Brands Hatch for the opening and closing rounds) the 30-race series is the flagship series in British motorsport, with a global-wide following.

“You only need to see that BMW have chosen the KwikFit BTCC series to launch their new 3 Series car – and it looks the part – to appreciate the kind of audience the championship enjoys, and has done for a few years.

“Sometimes, I have to take a step back and just look at where I’m racing now and there is a bit of the ‘wow factor’ when I think I have a car and a drive in what has to be the best saloon car series in the world.”

If manufacturers like the appeal of the BTCC, then so do broadcasters and spectators alike, the bumper to bumper, door handle to door handle spectacle producing high-speed drama, not to forget some dramatic crashes, one of which Butcher found himself caught up in at Oulton Park last season.

“The majority of the time it’s all close, but very clean racing. But you have to remember that the action is all high-speed, with cars – which thanks to the rules and regulations – are all designed to be extremely close in terms of competition. So a fraction of a second late on the brakes, or a misjudgment of where to put your car in a corner, can have dire consequences, for you and others.

Accidents are part of racing, but no-one sets out to have one; it can ruin your race, your day and your title ambitions. And, it costs a lot of money to put right.”

While Brands Hatch hosts the opening round next weekend, the 32-year-old will be in more familiar territory come September at his native Knockhill, where he works the rest of the year, and is back on track as his favourite circuit.

“I loved the Brands GP circuit, which is an old-fashioned lap, full of twists and undulations. I mean Paddock Bend is like something you’d find at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach! But we tested back at Knockhill a few weeks ago. Maybe being here every day, you forget how challenging and different it is. But going over the bumps and kerbs in the Honda, flat out, really made me fall in love with it all over again.”