RORY BUTCHER has hailed his new car for the 2021 British Touring Car Championship season as "confidence-inspiring" after getting behind its wheel last week.

The 34-year-old recently began preparations for the upcoming campaign with Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, who he joined earlier this year, at the Donnington Park and Snetterton circuits as testing got under way.

After the team's new Speedworks Motorsport-prepared Corollas were unveiled last month, this was a first opportunity for Fifer Butcher, and team-mate Sam Smelt, to enjoy a run in the car he hopes will allow him to challenge for the title.

The 2019 Independent Drivers' Championship and Jack Sears Trophy winner, whose dad, Derek, is the CEO and owner of Knockhill Racing Circuit, posted some competitive times, across three days of testing, ahead of making his 100th BTCC start when the competition begins at Thruxton on May 9.

"It felt great to return to a circuit for the first time in a while and to get my 'race head' back on," Butcher commented.

"I always do a lot of preparation and training at home but there's nothing like actually arriving at the track and knuckling down to work, and to benefit from a proper block of test days to really get a feel for the Corolla was ideal.

"Donnington was effectively a shakedown that quite quickly developed into a more serious test session. We were able to make finer adjustments to the set-up in the afternoon and learn how the car reacts to them, and I got to understand a bit more about how the team operates and start building a real rapport with my engineer and the whole Speedworks crew.

"I'm quite fortunate in that this is the fifth car I have driven in the BTCC in less than four years, and I think that prior experience unquestionably helps. I know what a good car feels like and I know what a bad car feels like and, I've got to say, the Corolla is very confidence-inspiring, which encouraged me to push the limits and take risks earlier than I had been anticipating, without fearing that it would punish me when I asked for a little bit more.

"That's exactly what I want out of a car.

"The Corolla gave me all the right feedback and definitely lived up to my expectations and, after just my first few laps at Snetterton, I came back in and said, 'There's really not a lot I would change' – it honestly felt that good.

"I came away feeling pretty buoyant and I genuinely think we're in a very strong place the moment."

Christian Dick, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK team principal, added: "Rory felt very comfortable in the Corolla from the outset. You’re always a little bit apprehensive when you change driver after so many years together but Rory brings with him a first-rate work ethic, a very positive vibe and an open mind, and it didn’t take long at all for him to get right onto the pace.

"Although he has only been in the championship since 2017, he has been able to provide some very interesting feedback from what he has experienced with different teams and different cars, which gives us plenty of food for thought on areas for improvement."

The upcoming campaign, which will see Butcher's brother-in-law, and three-time BTCC champion, Gordon Shedden, return to compete for the first time since 2017 with Team Dynamics Motorsport, begins on May 8-9 and arrives at Knockhill on August 14-15.

All races will be broadcast live on ITV4.