Speedworks steal the show with Rockingham podium breakthrough
As it approaches the end of its fifth year in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, plucky independent underdog Speedworks Motorsport pulled off one of the most popular results of the 2015 campaign at Rockingham, with a show-stopping performance to snare its breakthrough podium finish.
Speedworks has long been an established points-scorer in the all-action BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series – and this season, the Northwich-based outfit has been a consistent top ten regular, with flashes of form that have hinted at even greater potential just around the corner.
That potential was underlined by Tom Ingram posting either the fastest or second-fastest lap time during free practice on four separate occasions prior to Rockingham, and the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar did so again during both sessions in Northamptonshire.
Behind the wheel of the squad’s Hughes Safety Showers-backed Toyota Avensis, Ingram continued to be a force to be reckoned with throughout qualifying and wound up an excellent fourth amongst the 30 high-calibre protagonists – ruing a minor mistake that he contended had likely cost him a front row starting slot.
On the less durable softer-compound tyres in the opening encounter, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member fought hard to take the chequered flag fifth, raising his game to see off the challenge of former champions Andrew Jordan and Colin Turkington as they closed in over the latter stages.
A fraught midfield scrap ensued in race two from 13th on the grid as Ingram found himself dealing with 39kg of success ballast, but he gritted his teeth to work his way determinedly up to tenth. That secured last year’s standout rookie pole position for the third and final contest – Speedworks’ 132nd BTCC start.
With the glare of the ITV4 live television cameras and the likes of double title-winners Jason Plato and Turkington and triple champion Matt Neal tucked up behind him, the pressure was intense, but Ingram refused to crack. Remaining in front for the first 13 laps, the 22-year-old brilliantly rebuffed Plato’s advances time and again – even launching a counter-attack after briefly surrendering the lead as he brought the crowd to its collective feet.
Plato – the most successful driver in BTCC history – eventually found a way past on lap 14, but Ingram was not to be denied the runner-up spoils and the cheers from the Speedworks pit wall and main grandstand as he flashed across the finish line could be heard right the way around the track. There was scarcely a dry eye in the house.
“What a weekend!” enthused team principal Christian Dick, as Speedworks advanced to eighth in the Teams’ standings and equal-fourth in the Independents’ Trophy, with 19 points finishes to its credit from 24 starts – 16 of them inside the top ten. “It’s been an emotional one for everybody involved, and it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
“This podium has been a long time coming, and I really can’t put into words the sheer amount of effort and hard work that has gone in from all the guys to get us to this position. The pressure on our shoulders to convert our speed into this kind of result has been immense, and it’s incredible to have shifted the monkey from our back. I really hope this is the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for to open up the floodgates.
“The weekend had a good feeling about it from the start. In contrast to 2014, qualifying has been our Achilles’ heel this year – most probably due to being a bit over-conservative – and that has left us with a lot to do in the races. We’ve been really quick in practice at quite a few circuits, but Rockingham was the first time we actually managed to carry that pace over into qualifying. We found the optimum balance in the car and that unlocked its potential.
“To finish fifth in race one was very pleasing – and we knew there was more to come. Tom drove fantastically, and to be so far ahead of the other soft tyre-shod cars proves just how well the Avensis now looks after its tyres, which was a real bugbear for us last year.
“Race two was a midfield dogfight. The ballast was the most Tom has ever had to adapt to – which inevitably took a little time – but he did exactly what we asked of him by getting into the top ten, which we knew would give us a shot at the reversed grid draw.
“As for race three, what can I say? Jason Plato is the best in the business, and Tom kept him behind for more than two-thirds of the distance, matching him blow-for-blow. He put up one hell of a fight and repeatedly went wheel-to-wheel with a two-time champion – and even after Jason did finally get past, he stuck with him. It was, quite simply, a stunning performance – I really can’t speak highly enough of Tom and all the lads inside this team.
“The most encouraging aspect of all is that this result wasn’t handed to us on a plate – we earned the podium on merit. Yes, we benefitted from the reversed grid, as others have done this season, but Tom still had to take on three BTCC champions and he saw off Colin and Matt and was only narrowly beaten by Jason. Now we need to make sure we take this momentum forward...”