Speedworks and Ingram exceed expectations north of the border
Speedworks Motorsport exceeded expectations and then some as the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship travelled north of the border to Knockhill last weekend, with Tom Ingram producing a scene-stealing performance behind the wheel of the team’s Toyota Avensis.
A popular stop on the annual BTCC calendar, Knockhill – a picturesque and undulating rollercoaster of a circuit – is traditionally regarded as a rear wheel-drive track, but nobody appeared to have told Ingram as he tore up the formbook in free practice to top the timesheets in the front wheel-drive Avensis.
Despite carrying 27kg of success weight, the talented young Bucks ace set the pace again in qualifying amongst the 31 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet – before a mid-session puncture sent him skating across the gravel and pit-bound to allow the car to be checked over.
Thankfully, there was no major damage and a stellar job by the Speedworks crew enabled Ingram to return to the fray – albeit now some way down the order. Following a late red flag stoppage, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star vaulted up the timing screens to reclaim pole position with just a minute remaining, only to subsequently find himself pipped by a ballast-free Jason Plato to the tune of a scant two hundredths-of-a-second.
Still, to be the only front wheel-drive competitor inside the top five was a superb effort, and on the soft-compound tyres in race one, Ingram anticipated the red lights to perfection to stave off the fast-starting rear wheel-drive BMWs behind. After mounting an initial challenge on Plato, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member then settled into second and gave a defensive masterclass until Jack Goff in a much lighter car snuck past at mid-distance.
Particularly vulnerable to his rear wheel-drive pursuers at the hairpin – Knockhill’s chief overtaking spot – Ingram soaked up tremendous pressure from Sam Tordoff but was powerless to prevent Plato’s charging Subaru team-mate Colin Turkington from finding a way through as he increasingly struggled for traction and speed on worn rubber. Fourth position at the chequered flag nonetheless represented an excellent result and his sixth Independents’ victory of the season in the ITV4 live-televised BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
With 48kg of weight on-board in race two and on the less favourable, harder-compound tyres, the 22-year-old made another good start but thereafter lacked pace. As he battled valiantly to stay inside the top ten, contact from a number of over-ambitious rivals left his Toyota looking distinctly second-hand and ultimately forced Ingram into retirement.
That left the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion way down in 25th on the grid for the day’s finale and with limited opportunities to make up ground, but he advanced to 20th on the opening tour and as soon as he was in clean air, began posting purple sector times like they were going out of fashion. He was into the points by lap ten and had latched onto the back of a multi-car scrap over eighth when his tyres cried enough and restricted him to a 12th-place finish.
The fourth-best lap of the race – quicker than the winner – served to underscore his potential and show what might have been, but Ingram has already turned his attentions towards the next outing at Rockingham, where he and Speedworks celebrated their breakthrough BTCC rostrum last year. He will head there sitting tenth in the Drivers’ standings and third in the Independents’ Trophy, with the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit seventh in the Teams’ table and second in the Independent Teams’ Trophy.
“Having been on the pace pretty much everywhere this year, we went into the weekend feeling reasonably hopeful, albeit realistically knowing there wouldn’t be much we could do about the rear wheel-drive cars,” opined Speedworks Team Principal Christian Dick. “Our aim was to be the fastest front wheel-drive car in the field, and to be as competitive as we were against the rear wheel-drive brigade and the only front wheel-drive car really taking the fight to them in qualifying and race one was extremely encouraging.
“The puncture knocked us out of sequence in qualifying and interrupted our rhythm and momentum, which can be quite destabilising, but Tom kept his head and pulled it out of the bag right at the end of the session and we were delighted to be on the front row – if admittedly a touch disappointed at missing out on pole by such a tiny margin.
“It’s fair to say that Tom then drove the absolute wheels off the Avensis in the first race, and I think it was one of the smartest performances he’s ever produced in touring cars. To hang onto second position for as long as he did under so much pressure was phenomenal; he defended when he needed to and when it was clear the battle was lost, he intelligently conceded the position rather than risk an accident or overworking his tyres. It was an excellent drive and he really maximised the result.
“The car didn’t handle the ballast particularly well in race two, which was probably down to a lack of experience on our part but we will learn from that. We were optimistic of snatching a point or two in race three, and given the difficulty of overtaking at Knockhill and the dubious driving standards we’ve seen recently further back in the pack, Tom did very well to stay out of trouble. To finish 12th – within touching distance of the top ten – was a great effort and a strong fightback.
“That leaves us feeling very positive heading to Rockingham. We’ve obviously got a lot of happy memories of the track as the scene of both our first BTCC podium and 100th start, and we know how to get the Avensis working well there. On top of that, Tom has a fantastic record at Rockingham and although we’ll be fairly light at the start of the weekend, hopefully we’ll have a lot more weight in the car after race one...”
“We went to Knockhill anticipating a real dogfight and being a circuit that tends to favour rear wheel-drive, short-wheelbase cars – of which the Avensis is neither – we were fully expecting a tough weekend,” added Ingram. “That being the case, I was pleasantly surprised by how quick we were in practice and while you never know exactly what everyone else is doing, qualifying proved that our pace was genuine.
“It was a shame about the puncture, because it cost us a set of new tyres and meant we had to bolt two old ones on for our final run. After the red flag, I knew it was do-or-die and I put it all on the line. I really don’t think I could have got much more out of the lap; the only frustration was that had we had new tyres on all-round, it would likely have been good enough for pole...
“Regardless of that, we were really pleased to be on the front row of the grid – there was no way we should have been able to beat the other rear wheel-drive cars – although we knew that holding onto our position would be an extremely tall order given the advantage they had.
“I got a mega start in the first race to cover the BMW attack, but immediately, the pace was too hot for a front wheel-drive car round Knockhill and with being pushed so hard from behind, my tyres were gone by one-third distance. After that, I was right on the ragged edge trying to defend and I didn’t fight too hard against Goff or Turkington because with the speed differential, I knew they would find a way past eventually and didn’t want to hurt my tyres even more.
“I would have loved to have finished on the podium outright, but we had to be happy with another Independents’ win – it was a lot more than we could have expected going into the weekend and we could be very proud at having held our own throughout.
“Unfortunately, we then struggled with the extra ballast in race two; that plays a big role at Knockhill, and we really didn’t have an answer. I was effectively a sitting duck and people were overtaking me wherever they wanted, after which it all got a bit physical and I found myself being knocked around from pillar to post! It almost got to the stage of ‘who wants to hit us next?!’ It was completely unnecessary and there was a lot of questionable driving going on that left us with a fair amount of damage.
“Being so tight-and-twisty, Knockhill clearly isn’t a great place to be starting towards the back of the grid, but I was aiming for points in race three and that’s what we achieved. The top ten looked to be on at one stage, but I took a lot out of my tyres fighting through and by the end, I had nothing left. It was such a shame, because the car felt absolutely mint and if we’d started further up the order, we could have been looking at an altogether different result.
“Still, we salvaged something from a difficult situation and we’ll go to Rockingham with very little weight on-board. It’s a circuit I have always loved, and it should be more of a level playing field than Knockhill was. On paper, it’s the kind of track that should suit the Avensis well, so let’s see what we can do...”