Ingram enhances title credentials as he defies the odds for Croft podium double
Croft may be regarded as a circuit that favours rear wheel-drive cars, but clearly nobody told Tom Ingram that last weekend (23/24 June), as the Speedworks Motorsport star stormed to a superb podium double in North Yorkshire to close in on the top of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title standings.
Ingram has always been a fan of Croft, and the talented young Bucks ace duly set the pace in the first free practice session amongst the 32 high-calibre protagonists – in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
He remained firmly up at the sharp end in FP2, before securing an excellent fifth on the grid in qualifying – making light of the 48kg of success ballast aboard his #80 Toyota Avensis – and indeed was arguably on for a spot on the second row until traffic right at the end of the lap spoiled his best effort. That nonetheless left Ingram best-placed of the leading championship contenders and one of only two front wheel-drive cars inside the top eight.
In the full glare of the live ITV4 television cameras the following day and running on the harder-compound Dunlop ‘option’ tyre, the reigning BTCC Independents’ Champion made a strong start to race one, immediately gaining a place off the line to fourth. After shaking off Sam Tordoff’s ballast-free Ford, he focussed on chasing down Andrew Jordan ahead and his persistent pressure ultimately paid off, as his rival skated straight on at Turn One with four laps to go to elevate Ingram to third.
Carrying even more weight in race two and on the standard tyre – less durable in the intense heat – the 24-year-old brilliantly out-dragged the two front row-sitting Subarus on the dash to the first corner, before holding his nerve to take the lead. Defending title-holder Ash Sutton made a late lunge into the hairpin at the end of lap two to reclaim the advantage, but Ingram stayed in his slipstream for as long as he could before turning his attentions towards fending off fast-closing championship leader Colin Turkington behind.
With barely two tenths-of-a-second between them and on fading tyres, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion produced a defensive masterclass. Withstanding relentless pressure, he grittily hung on to the runner-up position right the way to the chequered flag, the result representing his fourth outright podium finish of 2018 and fourth Independents’ Trophy win.
Beginning the day’s reversed grid finale from eighth, with 66kg of ballast on-board and again on the standard tyre, Ingram made another bright start only to lose out as the field bunched up into Turn One for the first time. Undeterred, he outfoxed Tordoff at Tower on lap two, but as his tyre performance dropped off and the weight increasingly told, he fell back into the Yorkshireman’s clutches. That culminated in a drag race out of the last corner on the last lap, with the Ford pipping the Toyota by the narrowest of margins.
Ninth place nevertheless completed a stellar points haul for the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member, vaulting Ingram from fourth up to second in the overall Drivers’ classification – 19 points adrift of Turkington – and catapulting him back to the summit of the Independents’ Trophy standings. Speedworks similarly returned to the top of the Independent Teams’ table, while advancing from seventh to sixth in the outright Teams’ ranking.
“Considering we arrived at Croft with the primary objective of minimising our points loss to Colin [Turkington] around what has always been predominantly a rear wheel-drive circuit and a very happy hunting ground for him, to come away with the second-highest score of the weekend and actually close on the championship lead is pretty phenomenal in my opinion,” mused the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick.
“As they always do, the Speedworks boys worked their socks off to progressively improve the car throughout practice and qualifying, which allowed Tom to really attack in the races and as ever, he was outstanding throughout.
“The Avensis was comfortably the best front wheel-drive car over the weekend, and we even took the fight to a lot of the rear wheel-drive cars, which was tremendously encouraging. The way Tom kept Colin – in a lighter BMW – behind him for lap after lap in race two was simply stunning. To manage the weight and the tyres as well as he did in every scenario was hugely impressive. He looked after the car when he needed to and wasn’t afraid to get his elbows out when required.
“To be back on top in both Independent tables and second in the overall Drivers’ standings is a fantastic way to sign off the first half of the season. Tom got absolutely everything out of the package at Croft, and in my view, his performance proves he is a driver ready to win this championship.”
“What a mega weekend!” echoed Ingram. “It’s fair to say we significantly exceeded our expectations at Croft, and the most exciting thing for me is that we’ve got the car working the way I want it to again after missing something at both Thruxton and Oulton Park. It was nice to have the old girl back.
“We laid the foundations for the weekend in qualifying, and to be one of only two front wheel-drive cars inside the top eight – while carrying 48kg of extra weight – was a fantastic start. Still, with so many rear-wheel drive cars around us, I genuinely didn’t expect to move forward in race one. It looked like Andrew [Jordan] just missed his braking marker heading into Clervaux and went off. I was so surprised, I nearly followed him myself, which would have been a bit of a schoolboy error!
“I think Ash [Sutton] and Jason [Plato] were a bit too focussed on each other at the start of race two, which offered me the opportunity to leapfrog them both into the first corner, but I knew Ash would come back at me given the speed they had all weekend. With the bigger picture in mind, I didn’t want to get caught up in any unnecessary incidents or take too much out of my tyres so I didn’t fight him too hard when he inevitably made his move.
“It was different with Colin, because we need every point we can get against him in light of the championship situation. He was extremely quick, but by the same token, I knew he wasn’t going to do anything stupid and all credit to the team – the car felt awesome even with more weight on-board and to take two podiums with a lot of ballast and at a rear-wheel drive circuit was a great result.
“Ninth was about all we were going to get out of the last race with the weight we were carrying and the standard tyre. I was really struggling to hold on towards the end, and that left me a bit powerless against Sam [Tordoff]. He was all over me and when he got a run exiting the hairpin for the final time, I wasn’t going to put him onto the grass. It was still another very solid top ten score and ultimately, what a great way to go into the summer break – with momentum on our side and firmly in the title fight!”