Ingram draws first blood as Speedworks make winning start to 2017
Tom Ingram proved that he and Speedworks Motorsport will be ‘a force to be reckoned with’ in the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, as the independently-run driver and team defeated a wealth of high-calibre competition to win the fiercely-contested curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch last weekend (1/2 April).
Speedworks headed into its seventh season in the immensely popular, ITV4 live-televised, all-action BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier tin-top series – bullish about its prospects for success, having broken its duck in fine style last year and set the pace at the annual Media Day group test with its facelifted and substantially updated Toyota Avensis.
Despite feeling distinctly under the weather, Ingram maintained that momentum straight off the bat around Brands’ short Indy loop, topping the timesheets in both free practice sessions behind the wheel of the freshly-liveried #80 entry. That less than a second covered the leading 28 contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet – only served to underline the sheer competitiveness of the 2017 field.
All eyes were duly on the talented young Bucks ace in qualifying, but with the track drying following a light shower, he had just been pipped to pole position when the red flags flew for an accident and the rain returned, dashing any chance of fighting back.
Undeterred, from second on the grid in race one, Ingram produced a textbook getaway when the lights went out to sweep around the outside of the pole-sitter into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time and immediately make good his escape. A superb re-start following an early safety car period saw him swiftly reassert his supremacy, pulling 1.3 seconds away from his pursuers over the course of the opening lap alone.
Thereafter, the 23-year-old extended his margin with a series of fastest laps before maintaining a consistent gap of around two-and-a-half seconds over his nearest challenger, defending champion Gordon Shedden. More than three seconds clear at the chequered flag, a year on from his and Speedworks’ maiden BTCC triumph, Ingram repeated the feat in commanding fashion with a peerless performance securing his third career success.
An electrical drama ahead of race two then prompted a heart-in-the-mouth moment as the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion was initially unable to pull away from the grid, but a fortuitous red flag enabled his Speedworks crew to examine the issue. When the action got underway proper, Ingram made light of the maximum 75kg success ballast aboard the Avensis to launch off the line once again, before relinquishing his advantage to Shedden on lap three.
Subsequently focussing on staving off a two-pronged BMW threat behind, the KX Akademy graduate defended tremendously under intense pressure, conceding only a single spot to snare a second consecutive Independents’ victory and an excellent third place outright.
>From sixth on the reversed grid in the day’s finale, Ingram was hanging on well with 57kg in his car and on the softer, less durable tyre compound, but a nudge from Matt Neal sent him skating across the gravel and tumbling down the order, and 11th at the flag represented an exercise in damage limitation.
Nonetheless, his best BTCC points tally to-date ensured the MSA Academy member left Brands sitting an outstanding second in the overall Drivers’ standings and Independents’ Trophy, with Speedworks third out of 18 in the Teams’ classification and second in the Independent Teams’ table ahead of the next outing on the calendar at Donington Park on 15/16 April.
“You always hope for results like that, and while there’s no longer any such thing as a perfect weekend in the BTCC with the success ballast and soft tyres, what we achieved at Brands Hatch was pretty damn close,” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based squad’s Team Principal Christian Dick. “It confirmed the direction we’ve been pursuing over the off-season, and that the updates to the car have yielded the desired effect.
“More importantly, it also proves what a fantastic bunch of guys we have working here – we’ve had to adapt to pretty significant regulation changes in each of the last two seasons, and on both occasions, we’ve come straight out-of-the-blocks and won the first race.
“The difference in 2017 is that having broken through last year and with the experience of fighting towards the front of the field, the goalposts – and expectations – have shifted, to the extent where we now approach every weekend targeting the top step of the podium. We are better prepared than we have ever been, and Brands Hatch demonstrated that we are as quick and competitive as anybody else out there.
“Tom was calmly in control throughout race one and produced a flawless and metronomically consistent performance, and to then take another podium in race two with maximum ballast underscores just how much we have improved as a team – we were aiming for the top six, so to finish third was exceptional. I’d say that was arguably the best drive of his BTCC career so far.
“Given that you invariably have to sacrifice one race over the weekend, to grab a decent haul of points from the finale in far from ideal circumstances was very solid indeed. I think we can all be extremely happy with our results from Brands Hatch – and there’s plenty more yet to come.”
“I’m over-the-moon,” echoed Ingram. “That’s the best start to a season we’ve ever had, and to leave sitting second in the championship is phenomenal. It’s been a brilliant weekend.
“We arrived feeling confident after winter testing and hopeful of replicating last year’s form, and although the weather scuppered our chances of taking pole position, we more than made up for that in race one. The start was key – I knew if I could snatch the lead straightaway, I could earn myself some breathing space and that’s exactly what happened. After that, I just kept it steady and maintained a consistently strong pace without ever having to push flat-out.
“The Avensis felt absolutely mint and it was awesome to win the first race of the season again – the only time all year when everybody is on a level playing field with no success ballast to take into account. It was the perfect way to reward the Speedworks boys for their tireless hard work over the winter, and proved that all of our development efforts have really paid off.
“It didn’t look like we’d even be starting race two at one stage and once we finally did get going, we knew it would be tricky with the weight but by the same token, we had a very quick car underneath us. That said, as soon as I saw Rob Collard throw his nose down the inside of me at Paddock Hill Bend, I thought, ‘I remember this from last year’ so I let him go! We prioritised the points and considering the ballast we had on-board, third was fantastic and definitely exceeded our expectations.
“With the current BTCC regulations, you’re never going to have three great races over the course of a weekend and the third one was always going to be a case of damage limitation for us – so to come away with another points finish and sitting second in both the overall and Independents’ standings was a stellar result. We’ve shown we are a force to be reckoned with and are firmly in the mix – and that’s massively exciting for the rest of the year.”