Ingram cements top ten BTCC ranking as Speedworks prove pace in finale
Tom Ingram has secured a top ten finish in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) standings for the first time, as Speedworks Motorsport concluded a breakthrough campaign in the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series with a popular points-scoring hat-trick at Brands Hatch GP.
Ingram arrived at the legendary Kent venue – one that played host to Formula 1’s British Grand Prix on 12 occasions between 1964 and 1986 – buoyed by his second success of the season a fortnight earlier at Silverstone, where he had only been knocked out of overall title contention by a head gasket failure in the final race.
Returning to the scene of the second podium finish of his fledgling BTCC career the previous year, the talented young Bucks ace was immediately in the ballpark in distinctly inclement conditions in free practice and vaulted to the top of the timesheets in qualifying before the action was halted for an accident.
The heavens opened during the pause, ostensibly confirming the #80 Toyota Avensis at the summit of the order, but as the minutes ticked down, so the track increasingly dried out and the lap times began to tumble. When he rejoined the fray, Ingram had been demoted to 13th but he immediately responded, and only traffic scuppered his efforts to snare a third pole position of the campaign.
Missing out by a scant six thousandths-of-a-second, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star was poised to line up in P2 – his fifth front row slot from ten attempts in 2016, an impressive 50 per cent strike rate and cementing his status as comfortably the BTCC’s best average qualifier – until a ride-height test failure relegated him to the very back of the grid for race one amongst the 31 high-calibre contenders, indisputably some of the finest touring car exponents on the planet.
>From there, Ingram fairly scythed his way through the field on the less durable soft-compound rubber, gaining eight spots on the opening lap alone and stealing a couple of late positions to finish inside the points in 14th. He made further progress in race two in front of the live ITV4 television cameras, settling into a multi-car scrap over the runner-up spoils that called for attack and defence in equal measure and taking the chequered flag ninth.
Despite missing out on the reversed grid pole for race three, the 23-year-old was undeterred and overhauled multiple champions Colin Turkington and Jason Plato in swift succession, before relieving Josh Cook’s MG of sixth and rapidly zeroing in on the second-placed battle.
Lapping fastest on the track, the next target on his hit-list was title protagonist Sam Tordoff, but with the clock counting down and not wanting to risk unfairly influencing the championship outcome, he maturely settled for a twelfth top six finish of the season.
That earned the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion tenth spot in the overall Drivers’ classification – a three-place improvement upon 2015 – with Speedworks advancing two positions in the Teams’ table to seventh. In their respective Independents’ Trophy rankings, Ingram wound up fourth and the plucky Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit third.
“I love the GP circuit at Brands Hatch,” acknowledged the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member. “It’s a real old-school challenge that demands plenty of commitment, and I’ve always gone well there.
“We should have been on pole in qualifying, but I lost two tenths-of-a-second on my fastest lap with traffic in the first sector – although of course that was ultimately academic anyway. It was obviously disappointing to have to start at the back of the grid, but it wasn’t as if we were still in the championship hunt and we knew we had the pace in the car to fight through the pack, so I was looking forward to going out there and having some fun.
“In the first race, it was slightly too cold still for the soft tyres to perform at their peak, and I probably took a bit too much life out of them early on. After that, I focussed on trying to preserve them so we could go back on the offensive towards the end, and that clearly paid off as we nabbed a couple more positions in the last two laps.
“We were quick again in race two, but it was just so difficult to make progress. Nobody at the front of the field was doing very much overtaking, to be fair, but ninth place nonetheless represented a solid points haul, even if it was a shame to miss out on the reversed grid pole. The team then did an awesome job with the car for race three and the Avensis felt absolutely mint – a real pleasure to drive – but whilst I was catching Tordoff hand-over-fist by the end, I was wary of interfering in the title battle so I didn’t push him too hard.
“It was admittedly frustrating not to be able to fulfil our potential over the weekend, but we ended the season inside the top ten overall – which was a big step forward – and with the speed we have shown pretty much everywhere in 2016, we’ve definitely proved we are going to be a force to be reckoned with next year.”
“I think you’d have to describe that as a missed opportunity,” concurred Team Principal Christian Dick. “We clearly had a lot of pace in the Avensis, as we proved throughout practice and qualifying, but the ride-height issue put us completely on the back foot.
“All the indications were that qualifying was going to be wet so we prepped the car accordingly, but then as the track dried, we had to reassess and we left it as late as possible to switch over to a dry set-up to ensure we were making the right call. That put the guys in the garage under a lot of pressure, and a few things probably got lost in translation. There was absolutely no intent behind it and it didn’t gain us any advantage, so it was a bitter pill to swallow but rules are rules and as we’ve seen before, it happens to the best of them.
“We demonstrated on Sunday that our qualifying form was absolutely genuine, and Tom drove exceptionally well. With soft tyres and a little bit of ballast on-board in race one, he made plenty of progress up through the order and didn’t put so much as a scratch on the car. That primed us for a pair of top ten finishes, and whilst we can’t help but be disappointed by the final outcome knowing how much more we were capable of, it doesn’t take the shine off what has been in every respect an outstanding campaign.
“If we look back at our targets for 2016, we have achieved them all and then some – in fact, we ticked the two biggest ones off the list in the opening race of the season, with our first pole position and victory. Since then, we have kept on exceeding our own expectations, which makes me immensely proud and excited for what we can do next year.
“There have been plenty of ‘what ifs’ along the way, but by the same token, an awful lot of highlights and reasons for encouragement going forward. We already have a very potent package, and there are areas in which we can improve both the car and the team – plus, of course, we now have the added confidence of knowing we can run up at the sharp end and challenge for race wins at every circuit on the calendar. I can’t wait to get stuck into 2017!”