Ingram and Speedworks extend championship lead on 'mega' weekend

Tom Ingram defied the odds to increase his lead in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton last weekend (6/7 May), as Speedworks Motorsport unleashed a superb performance to tame the fastest circuit in the country with a trio of top four finishes.

Having moved to the top of the points table three weeks earlier courtesy of a sublime second victory of the campaign at Donington Park behind the wheel of his Toyota Avensis, Ingram arrived at Thruxton with his sights set on consolidating his advantage, albeit carrying 66kg of success ballast aboard the #80 entry.

The talented young Bucks ace initially languished around a second shy of the benchmark as he proved unable to crack the top ten in free practice, struggling to strike a satisfactory balance over a single lap in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.

That left Speedworks chasing its tail heading into qualifying, but a raft of strategic changes and a scintillating early effort from Ingram secured fourth spot on the starting grid amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet – in so doing preserving the 23-year-old’s record as the best average qualifier of the season to-date.

In front of the live ITV4 television cameras, Ingram maintained station in race one as the Avensis carried the weight well throughout, applying pressure on Jack Goff in a lighter car ahead while simultaneously staving off a threat from behind. Fourth place marked an excellent result, and with less ballast on-board for race two, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion was truly able to go on the attack.

Following an early red flag, he muscled Ashley Sutton’s Subaru out of fifth, profited from an issue for early leader Matt Neal to advance to fourth and then stole third place from Goff at the beginning of lap four. After rapidly reeling in the two leaders, Ingram looked to be the fastest and feistiest of the trio and was primed to pounce when an incident further down the order prompted the red flags to fly again – this time for good.

>From fourth on the grid in the day’s finale, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member successfully toughed it out around the outside of defending champion Gordon Shedden on the opening lap before going on to relieve Rob Austin of third and Goff of second. Thereafter, he considered giving chase to Colin Turkington but a ‘moment’ later in the race convinced him that on this occasion and with a hefty 57kg of ballast on-board, discretion was the better part of valour.

Nonetheless, the runner-up spoils – Ingram’s fifth podium and eighth top five finish from nine starts in 2017 – enabled him to extend his overall championship lead to 17 points and his margin in the Independents’ Trophy to 21 points, with Speedworks similarly stretching its legs in the Independent Teams’ standings and holding firm in third spot in the Teams’ classification. As it revs up next for its home event at Oulton Park, the plucky Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit is riding the crest of a wave.

“Given the ultra-competitive nature of the BTCC and the impact of success ballast, it’s tremendously difficult to score three strong results over a race weekend now, but just like at Donington Park, that’s exactly what we achieved at Thruxton,” summarised Team Principal Christian Dick. “Not only that, but to do so with a car that never carried less than 48kg additional weight was mightily impressive.

“It’s fair to say that after free practice, there was a lot of head scratching going on. I know some other teams were saying we were sandbagging, but we really weren’t – we were just struggling massively to unlock the Avensis’ sweet spot. We were quite happy with our race pace, but nailing single-lap speed was proving to be rather more elusive. We were staring at the likelihood of qualifying outside of the top ten, and starting in the middle of the pack is notoriously fraught with danger.

“We sat down and analysed every element, which led to a series of pretty significant changes and Tom produced a stunning lap to claim fourth on the grid, which was testament to a stellar effort from all the boys and set us up nicely for the following day. In race one, he looked after the car and tyres and collected a solid clutch of points, and then in races two and three, he really demonstrated his pace and overtaking prowess to fight up the order.

“We led the championship after Donington because of an exclusion, but we left Thruxton having extended that lead entirely on merit and I think we showed that as a team, we have the skill, expertise and passion to challenge right at the sharp end in the toughest championship in the country.

“There are clearly going to be some harder days ahead with a few circuits coming up that perhaps play more to the characteristics of the rear wheel-drive cars, but the Toyota has been bang on the pace everywhere we’ve been so far and extremely consistent with it regardless of the success ballast – and that gives us a lot of confidence to take on to Oulton Park.”

“What a mega weekend!” echoed Ingram. “We went to Thruxton with what we thought were very realistic expectations. We were obviously carrying a lot of weight, but it’s also a track that I love – one that really rewards bravery and commitment – and having set a new lap record there in qualifying last year, I was looking forward to going back.

“We were quietly confident and knew after free practice that we had a consistently strong race car underneath us, but there was a major question mark over our qualifying form because we couldn’t get it hooked up the way we needed to. We went into the session fully anticipating an uphill battle, but I managed to pull a lap out of the bag that put us towards the front of the grid and as a team, I really think that was one of the best performances we have ever produced given how much our backs were against the wall.

“I was quicker than both Goff and Shedden in race one, but with the bigger picture in mind, there was no point in trying any risky moves as fourth position still represented a very solid finish. We were then in really good shape in race two, and it was a shame it was stopped when it was because I had latched onto the tail of the two leaders and was lining up to launch an attack. With just a few more laps, I’m confident we could have pushed for the win.

“We fought through again in race three, and once I had cleared Jack, I tried to see if I could close the gap to Colin too but after a big moment on the run down to the final chicane, I decided it was better to back off and settle for a safe second place. The Avensis was fantastic all day – absolutely superb – and we had the pace to challenge for victory in two of the three races. I really cannot praise the Speedworks guys and girls highly enough for what they are doing right now.

“To come away having actually extended our points lead is incredible – we honestly never expected to do so well, but it just goes to show once again what an awesome job Speedworks are doing on a very limited budget. I still can’t quite believe what we have achieved over the first third of the season – it’s amazing.”