Talented young Bucks ace defies adversity to retain Independents’ lead
- 24-year-old steals the show with sensational drive through the field
- Plucky Cheshire-based outfit eyes strong finish to 2017 BTCC campaign
Tom Ingram overcame early misfortune in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham last weekend (26/27 August), producing a show-stopping charge through the field to snare a brace of top ten finishes that have consolidated his Independents’ Trophy lead.
Ingram travelled to Rockingham with happy memories of the Northants speedway – scene of his breakthrough podium two years ago following a mesmerising duel with Jason Plato, the most successful driver in BTCC history. With his tail up, he duly set the pace in both free practice sessions amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet.
Behind the wheel of Speedworks Motorsport’s #80 Toyota Avensis, the talented young Bucks ace similarly topped the timesheets for a while in qualifying before winding up a competitive third, a scant 0.082s shy of the outright benchmark in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
Fancying his chances in the curtain-raiser, Ingram was fired-up for the fight but his challenge was unfortunately curtailed before it had even begun as a split brake hose forced him into the pit-lane and out of the reckoning at the end of the formation lap. To rub salt into the wounds, his two closest rivals for the Independents’ Trophy both scored strongly.
In front of ITV4’s live television cameras, the 24-year-old went immediately on the attack from the back of the grid in race two, advancing eight spots on the opening lap and continuing to overtake at every opportunity, frequently catching his adversaries off-guard through the long left-hander heading from Pif-Paf towards Gracelands – not generally considered a passing place.
Scything through the order, he was into the points by lap nine and the top ten just three tours later, before rapidly reducing the gap to the four-way scrap over sixth. By dint of determinedly nabbing ninth off Chris Smiley on the very last lap, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion completed an astonishing 23-place improvement over his starting position, flashing across the finish line to effusive applause from the Speedworks pit wall for a truly stellar effort.
Knowing he would likely be in for a tougher time in the day’s finale on the harder Dunlop tyres, Ingram initially gained ground, dispatching championship leader Ash Sutton and two-time title-holder Colin Turkington in swift succession as he temporarily posted the race’s fastest lap. Settling into the lead battle, he subsequently found himself having to soak up intense pressure from the Northern Irishman – whose BMW was running on the quicker medium-compound rubber.
He was artfully fending Turkington off until contact directly ahead into the final chicane on lap 13 prompted avoiding action. In the ensuing confusion, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member lost out and went on to take the chequered flag in eighth position – barely a second-and-a-half adrift of fourth and the only driver on hard tyres to finish inside the top ten.
His gritty performance enabled Ingram to maintain fifth place in the overall Drivers’ standings – narrowing his margin to the top three from 49 points to 38 – as well as his advantage in the Independents’ Trophy. Speedworks remain fourth in the Teams’ classification, and sit just nine points away from the top of the Independent Teams’ table going next to Silverstone (16/17 September) – where last year, the squad celebrated its second BTCC victory and a rostrum double.
“Ultimately, Rockingham turned into a ‘could have been’ weekend,” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal Christian Dick. “After the pace we showed throughout free practice and qualifying, what happened at the start of race one was tremendously disappointing and left all of us ruing a missed opportunity, but Tom’s stunning drive in race two really lifted the boys’ spirits and put us back in the mix.
“Race three was always going to be a tougher proposition on the hard tyres, but Tom fought well and with a little bit more luck I think we could have been on for a top five finish – he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when it all kicked off directly in front of him.
“Overall, there are a lot of positives to take away with us as we turn our attentions towards Silverstone. Realistically-speaking, the overall title is now looking like a tall order considering our points deficit; whilst we certainly won’t stop pushing for that, our main focus is obviously on preserving Tom’s advantage in the Independents’ Trophy and recapturing the lead in the Independent Teams’ championship. Anything else above and beyond that will be a bonus.”
“Rockingham was a weekend that promised much more than it delivered,” echoed Ingram, “but whilst it clearly could have been a lot better without the brake failure in race one, given where we consequently had to start race two, it could also have been a lot worse.
“We looked to be in a really strong position after practice and qualifying and I had my eyes firmly fixed on the podium in race one, but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. The brake issue was just one of those things – it wasn’t anybody’s fault – and although it ruined our race, I’d rather have it happen on the formation lap than with all 32 cars streaming flat-out into Turn One at the start!
“That put us into recovery mode, and my aim for race two was to try and creep into the top 15 to pick up a few points, but we obviously did a bit better than that. The Speedworks boys gave me a fantastic car – the Avensis felt extremely responsive throughout – and I was able to pick people off with relative ease. I must say, Chris [Smiley] defended really well at the end and was a tough nut to crack. I competed against him back in my karting days, so it was fun to renew battle in touring cars ten years on.
“In race three, the goal was to remain inside the top ten on the harder tyres and we achieved that, even if it could have been a better result if we hadn’t got delayed by the incident just ahead. I guess that kind of summarised our entire Rockingham weekend – a case of what might have been – but we’ve come out of it still leading the Independents’ standings and I think we can go to Silverstone in very optimistic mood.”