Ingram soars into championship lead on stellar weekend for Speedworks

18-Apr-2017


Tom Ingram has leapfrogged into the lead of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship after a superb weekend at Donington Park (15/16 April), as he and Speedworks Motorsport secured their second victory of 2017 in emphatic fashion with a commanding performance.

Ingram headed to Donington – where he had set the benchmark pace in the only official pre-season test a month earlier – carrying 66kg of success ballast aboard his Toyota Avensis following his curtain-raising triumph at Brands Hatch. That, however, did not hold him back in free practice as the talented young Bucks ace lapped comfortably inside the top four in both sessions amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the finest touring car protagonists on the planet.

He maintained that impressive form in qualifying to line up an excellent third on the starting grid for race one, driving on the absolute ragged edge of adhesion and underscoring just how much he was pushing with a wild trip across the gravel.

As one of only two drivers in the field on the harder-compound Dunlop rubber in the opener, Ingram stormed into the lead as the lights went out and artfully controlled a cold tyre slide through the Craner Curves to sprint almost a second clear by the end of the first lap.

Ultimately, the extra weight was always going to tell as the race progressed, and after grittily remaining in charge for the first four tours, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion inevitably found himself forced to yield to several lighter rivals. He subsequently produced a defensive masterclass to heroically stave off intense pressure from reigning champion Gordon Shedden, Adam Morgan and Rob Collard to snare fifth at the chequered flag.

With 27kg removed from his Avensis for race two in the immensely popular, ITV4 live-televised BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series – Ingram made short work of scything his way past Matt Neal, Rob Austin, Colin Turkington and Collard before relieving Aiden Moffat of the top spot with a perfectly-judged move down the Craner Curves on lap four. Immediately scampering clear, the 23-year-old stretched his advantage to almost four seconds at the flag as his success made him the BTCC’s first multiple winner of the season and vaulted him to the summit of the Drivers’ standings.

The heavens then opened ahead of the day’s finale, severely reducing grip levels and sending countless cars – the #80 Toyota amongst them – aquaplaning off-track left, right and centre. The red flags unsurprisingly flew, prompting a re-start once the rain had abated. Despite grappling with maximum ballast, Ingram maturely mastered the spray and low setting sun to tally another top five finish from eighth on the grid, barely a second adrift of the rostrum.

That means the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member will next travel to Thruxton – scene of his maiden car racing podium and win and a second career BTCC pole position last year – 14 points ahead of his closest adversary in the chase for the coveted crown and similarly atop the Independents’ Trophy classification. Speedworks lead the Independent Teams’ battle and occupy third place in the overall Teams’ table.

“What a weekend!” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal Christian Dick. “To leave in the lead of three of the four championships is far more than we could ever have wished for arriving at Donington, and that is an absolute tribute to every single member of this team and all the hard work that everybody puts in.

“It was the first time we had gone into a BTCC weekend carrying such significant success ballast, so we were fully prepared for qualifying and race one to be a bit of a struggle. Secretly, we thought we might be able to extract some good one-lap pace out of the car and harboured hopes of qualifying somewhere towards the latter end of the top ten, but to line up third was just exceptional and Tom’s drive in race one – with all that weight and the hard tyres – was simply stunning.

“For me, that was the performance of the day, period. When he took the lead at the start and initially pulled away from the field, I turned around and said to the boys, ‘Has he not read the script?! This isn’t supposed to be happening!’ He later coped with massive pressure from behind and nobody else finished that high on the hard tyres all day, let alone with so much ballast on-board.

“That result set us up perfectly for race two, in which Tom was aggressive when he needed to be and once he got out front, he made it look easy, quite frankly. In race three, with maximum ballast and given the conditions, we would quite honestly have accepted any points finish at all so to come away with fifth place was incredible and again serves to underline just how strong a package we have in terms of team, driver and car this year. Everybody is performing right at the top of their game – so bring on Thruxton!”

“First and foremost, everything was put into perspective at Donington by the accident involving Billy Monger and Patrik Pasma in British F4,” added Ingram. “Nobody ever likes to see that kind of thing and my thoughts are with them both and their families. I’ve worked with Billy as a driver coach and he is a fantastic kid, and I hope he will be fighting fit again in no time.

“As for our weekend, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to leave Donington in the outright lead of the championship – and to do so with a 14-point margin is just crazy! We didn’t really know what to expect going into it carrying 66kg of success ballast, but what we did know was that we had a very quick car underneath us.

“We far exceeded our aspirations in both qualifying and race one; we’d merely been aiming to stay inside the top ten. It was immensely tough with so much weight on-board and the hard tyres – I had cars crawling all over the back of me and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it again in a hurry – but it worked out brilliantly for us in the context of the rest of the weekend.

“In race two, the Avensis truly came alive. Everybody keeps telling me to prioritise points, but that gets a bit boring after a while and sensing a win, I really wanted to try to get through and go for it. The key was to find gaps early on – whenever opportunities arose, I had to put my car in there and hope for the best. Knowing Aiden was suffering in much the same way as I had earlier, it was pretty clear he was going to be the cork in the bottle so I used that to my advantage and as soon as I got past him, I pushed hard for a couple of laps to build a solid lead.

“To then get another top five in race three was mega and really capped off our weekend. After so very nearly binning it before the red flag – I genuinely thought I was heading straight for the barriers – I drove cautiously in the wet, mindful that we had maximum ballast and needed to finish. All credit to the team once again. Speedworks are doing an outstanding job at the moment, they’re a proper set of boys and Geoff [Kingston – chief engineer] has worked absolute wonders with the Avensis to develop it into one hell of a car. I can’t wait for Thruxton!”