Rory Butcher hopes that another strong result in the European Le Mans Series finale in Estoril will help build his profile on the continent after an impressive debut showing with JMW Motorsport at Paul Ricard.
The British GT race-winner, who will share the team’s Ferrari 458 this weekend with Rob Smith and Ferrari factory driver James Calado, was delighted to score a podium finish on his first outing in GTE despite minimal preparation, but knows he still has much to learn.
“I’d only done about eight laps in the car at Snetterton at the start of August and only received the news that I was going to be in the car about a week before the event, so it was quite exciting,” said the Silver-rated Scotsman, who had team-regular Jonny Cocker alongside to help bring him up to speed.
“It was my first time at Paul Ricard and I really enjoyed it, I really connected with the team and the car. JMW are a really professional squad and they prepare a very quick car, we just slogged it out all the way through the race and the team managed to put me in a position where I could secure a podium in that last stint. Credit to the engineers too because I only had 50 minutes to do on my stint so I knew I could push to that end, anything over that you’re going to be struggling with degradation and I could see the Porsches were struggling for tyre grip.
“It was a really nice feeling to prove that I could hold my own amongst that field, I really want to expand and do as much as I can to establish myself in Europe.”
Butcher recently added a tenth overall on his first start in the Blancpain Endurance Series, but found the step-up to GTE and multi-class racing an altogether different – and slightly addictive – proposition.
“It was quite interesting,” he laughs. “The LMP2s were unbelievably quick cornering-wise and it could be a little bit frustrating in a straight line because coming onto the Mistral straight, they would initially pull away from you, but about 260 clicks you’d start to catch them back up and you would have to decide whether to pass them or back off and sit behind because they’re so much quicker through the corners.
“There would be moments when you would look in your mirrors and there would be nothing there, and you would arrive at the apex of turn nine and there’s an LMP2 up on the kerb shoving you wide! It’s just about managing that and being smart, knowing when to hold them behind you and when to let them by.
“I really enjoyed it, the car has more grip, mainly mechanical but also aero as well; it was nice to be able to carry more speed in towards the apex of the corners. It’s just a more thoroughbred racing car compared to the GT3 and it was quite refreshing not having ABS as well, I enjoyed going back to my roots which are all about having technique and feel for what the car is doing.”
JMW go into the season finale with a mathematical chance of the GTE championship, but with a 24-point deficit to make up, they will need to win with Formula Racing #60, Marc VDS #52, AF Corse #55 and Proton Competition #88 all failing to finish.
Mikkel Mac, Jonny Laursen and Andrea Rizzoli are overwhelming favourites following their Safety Car-assisted win in Paul Ricard, but will be mindful of the final-round heartbreak which befell season-long leaders Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin last season, handing SMP racing the crown. In short, there is everything still to play for.