Ingram takes title fight down to the wire with thrilling third victory of season
For the second year in a row, Tom Ingram will enter the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship finale in with a shout of clinching the most coveted crown in UK motorsport, after bringing the huge crowd to their feet with a rousing performance to storm through the field to victory at Silverstone last weekend (15/16 September).
The talented young Bucks ace has been a title contender season-long in only his fifth campaign in the immensely popular, ITV4 live-televised BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series – and he arrived at Silverstone sitting second in the standings, albeit 43 points adrift of leader Colin Turkington following a ride-height failure three weeks earlier at Knockhill.
Carrying 66kg of success ballast aboard his Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis, Ingram lined up 19th on the grid, right behind Turkington and less than four tenths-of-a-second shy of the outright benchmark in an intensely close field in which barely 0.8s covered all bar two of the 31 high-calibre protagonists – some of the biggest touring car stars on the planet. In a bruising curtain-raiser, the reigning BTCC Independents’ Champion grappled with the extra weight and less favourable hard-compound tyres to ultimately snare the last point on offer in 15th place.
With the ballast removed for race two and on the more competitive standard rubber, Ingram immediately went on the attack, rising to 11th on the opening tour before pulling off a series of sublime, ultra-opportunistic double and even triple overtakes, scything past Turkington on lap four and going on to snatch the lead by mid-distance.
In a spellbinding display, he posted all four fastest laps of the race as he sprinted clear to take the chequered flag 6.4 seconds ahead of his nearest pursuer – keeping the championship battle very much alive. Impressively, the result marked the 25-year-old’s third victory from outside the top ten in 2018.
Now carrying 75kg of ballast and starting from seventh on the partially reversed grid, race three promised to be a considerably tougher proposition, but Ingram bravely muscled it out with Turkington and Rob Austin on the first lap to advance to sixth, took advantage of a second lap shuffle to pinch fifth from Sam Tordoff and outfoxed Matt Simpson and Ricky Collard for third on lap three.
Once more setting the pace, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion found himself elevated to second by a jump-start penalty for Jack Goff, before focussing on chasing down Aiden Moffat at the front of the field. He had more than halved the two-second deficit when the safety car was summoned for a car beached in the gravel further down the order.
What ensued at the re-start was a high-speed, six-car freight train for the lead, as Ingram piled the pressure on Moffat while staving off the ever-present threat behind – spearheaded, in the closing stages, by arch-rival Turkington in a substantially lighter car. With so much at stake, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member handled the precarious situation in his stride, fighting tooth-and-nail to secure the runner-up spoils as less than a third-of-a-second blanketed the top three at the end of a truly breathtaking contest.
The result made Ingram the equal-highest scorer of the weekend and means he will go to Brands Hatch in a fortnight’s time (29/30 September) just 34 points behind Turkington in the duel for the Drivers’ laurels, with 67 remaining up for grabs in Kent. He has extended his margin in the defence of his hard-won Independents’ Trophy, with Speedworks doing likewise in the Independent Teams’ classification and climbing a spot to fifth out of 21 in the overall Teams’ table.
“We went to Silverstone promising maximum attack and that’s exactly what we delivered,” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick. “With the championship scenario as it is, we knew playing safe and just collecting points was no longer an option and that we would need to take some risks.
“Deep down, we were conscious we were going to struggle with so much weight on-board in qualifying – and that proved to be the case for all three of the main title contenders. Our plan was to take the pain in one hit in the first race and then fight back from there – and Tom executed that strategy to perfection, pulling off some stunning moves along the way. Both he and the team showed immense strength of character to dig deep after race one and tally a huge points haul in races two and three.
“Tom’s performance throughout the day was simply outstanding. Our aim for race two had merely been to put ourselves into a position where we would be eligible for the reverse grid draw, so to dominate it in the way we did was sensational.
“That obviously meant the pressure was back on for race three, with 75kg in the car and Turkington alongside in a significantly lighter BMW, but Tom did a sterling job through the first half and his take-no-prisoners approach and ballsy overtakes really laid the foundations for the result. It gave him just enough breathing space that when Colin did eventually catch up, there were only a few laps left to have to fend him off.
“Thirty-four points is still a big gap but it’s not insurmountable, so we will go to Brands Hatch with our heads held high, our tails up – and ready to give this title battle maximum attack one last time.”
“I’m very happy with that,” echoed Ingram. “I was aiming pre-weekend to get to within 35 points, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Silverstone was such an important event for us; we went there knowing we needed to claw back some ground, and I think we got everything out of it that we possibly could.
“I was hoping to qualify inside the top ten or maybe even sneak into the top six, but it was such a difficult session. The level in the BTCC right now is the toughest I’ve ever known it, and with so many quick drivers and everybody so closely-matched around the short National Circuit, the extra weight makes a much bigger difference than before.
“It was always going to be an uphill battle from there, but I think bolting on the hard tyres for race one was the right strategy. It was obviously extremely difficult, but the balance of the car was actually very good – we just had no straight-line speed or stopping power. With the championship gap rising to 50 points after that, people were talking about Colin possibly being crowned at Silverstone – but there was no way we were going to let that happen!
“I was targeting the top five in race two, but when I achieved that, my engineer Spencer came over the radio to say, ‘you’ve still got another 17 laps’, which was when I knew it was on. The Avensis felt incredible; the Speedworks lads always put together such an amazing car and it’s an absolute rocket ship when we take the weight out – even on the last lap, I was barely six hundredths-of-a-second off my fastest lap outright. It’s very rare that you get to drive a car that is totally perfect, and I enjoyed every single moment.
“I knew I had to grasp my opportunities early on in race three and that it was critical to stay ahead of Colin, and I had to get my elbows out a bit. The Avensis felt great again – albeit heavy – and I’m convinced that without the safety car, we would have got Aiden because I was right on him with nobody immediately behind. I could have afforded to go for a move without risking losing a place, but the safety car changed all that and meant I needed to be much more circumspect.
“Even so, second place was another fantastic result and we will go to Brands Hatch with a fighting chance. Yes, we’re obviously still the underdog, but the ball is in our court and we’re not giving up now! We’re the hunter, while Colin is the hunted. The pressure is on him, not us and he’s sitting on two strikes, so he can’t afford to take any major risks whereas we can throw caution to the wind a bit more. I don’t think anybody has ever come from 34 points down ahead of the final weekend to win the title before – but we want to be the first!”