Balance issues might have momentarily put the brakes on Speedworks Motorsport’s progress in the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, but a fourth top ten finish of the season on a difficult weekend at Donington Park leaves the team in confident spirits moving forward.
Speedworks travelled to Donington with high hopes off the back of a superb top ten hat-trick in the Brands Hatch curtain-raiser a fortnight earlier, and that optimism appeared justified when Tom Ingram lapped eighth and seventh-fastest in the two free practice sessions behind the wheel of the significantly upgraded, Hughes Safety Showers-backed Toyota Avensis – firmly in the ballpark.
Unfortunately, changes made ahead of qualifying in an attempt to extract a little more performance from the car failed to pay off, making the Avensis nervous and skittish and prompting more than a few sideways ‘moments’. To compound matters, red flags also scuppered Ingram’s efforts twice just as he had got his tyres up to operating temperature in preparation for a ‘flyer’ – and 16th on the starting grid represented the lowest qualifying position to-date of his fledgling BTCC career.
Despite carrying 21kg of success ballast from Brands Hatch, the 21-year-old British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar fought his way up to 12th over the opening laps of race one in the immensely popular, ITV4 live-televised, all-action BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series. Once the softer-compound tyres on his car began to fade, however, he was powerless to prevent a slide down the order to 16th at the chequered flag – just outside of the points.
From 18th on the grid in the second encounter, Ingram advanced four spots on the first lap alone, and thereafter spent much of the race duelling with multiple World Touring Car Champion and Brands Hatch pole-sitter Andy Priaulx. Emboiled in a multi-car scrap throughout, he found himself fighting against not only his rivals but also a braking imbalance that left him unsure of just how the Avensis would react, and the upshot was 13th in the final reckoning, barely four seconds adrift of the driver in fourth.
The KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member – last year’s standout BTCC rookie – again grappled with brake dramas in race three, but he gritted his teeth and got his head down to cross the finish line tenth to end a tough weekend on a more encouraging note. Ingram now sits 12th in the overall standings amongst the 29 high-calibre contenders and a strong fifth in the Independents’ Trophy, with Speedworks ninth in the outright teams’ table and an excellent third amongst the Independents’.
“Everybody here was buzzing after Brands Hatch and targeting another step forwards at Donington,” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s team principal Christian Dick. “We showed promising pace throughout practice again, but then in qualifying we made some changes to try to loosen the car up a bit and make it edgier, but the balance wasn’t quite right and Tom struggled with the handling. We were on the wrong end of three tenths-of-a-second, and the field is so close and competitive this year that you simply can’t afford that kind of time loss.
“We took a tactical punt and rolled the dice with the soft tyres in race one to get them out of the way; it was worth a shot, because whilst we knew we probably wouldn’t achieve a result out of it given how quickly they deteriorate, the objective was to put a fast lap in early on to secure a much higher grid position for race two.
“Unfortunately, with starting so far down the order, Tom was having to battle his way through when the tyres were at their best – and in the cold temperatures, it didn’t take long for them to go off. From there, it was an uphill climb in races two and three – and all credit to him for making progress and gaining ground in both of them when he was effectively fighting with one hand tied behind his back.
“Ultimately, had we qualified higher up the field for race one and been able to set a good lap time early on for the race two grid, it could have been an entirely different outcome to the weekend, but the positive is that even on a bad day, we registered some solid points in two out of three races – in a season where due to the revised regulations, there is some very inconsistent points-scoring going on.
“We left Donington understandably disappointed with the results, but with no damage and still an awful lot of positivity and excitement about the potential of this car. You have to remember that the Avensis is very new and we’ve done minimal testing. We haven’t got a proper handle on it yet, but we’re learning, understanding and improving all the time.
“It’s early days yet and there are plenty of races to come. The plan is to get some testing in before the next round at Thruxton. We proved our one-lap pace there last year with fifth on the grid, and having hopefully resolved the tyre troubles that plagued us throughout 2014, we return in the knowledge that we have a competitive package underneath us – and fully intending to make maximum use of it.”