Ingram extends championship lead as he draws level with legend Jim Clark
Tom Ingram stretched his legs in the chase for the coveted Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship crown at Donington Park last weekend (28/29 April), with the Speedworks Motorsport star’s second victory of the 2018 campaign tying him on the all-time winners’ list with late, great motorsport legend Jim Clark.
As championship leader following a stellar performance in the Brands Hatch curtain-raiser, Ingram travelled to Donington carrying the maximum 75kg success ballast aboard his Toyota Avensis.
That extra weight told in qualifying – held in greasy and slippery conditions following earlier rain – as the talented young Bucks ace struggled to an uncharacteristically lowly 16th on the starting grid amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders, less than two tenths-of-a-second outside the top ten in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
With all drivers obliged to run Dunlop’s less favourable harder-compound tyres once, Ingram and Speedworks opted to take the pain straightaway. In front of the live ITV4 television cameras, a bright start in race one saw the reigning BTCC Independents’ Champion gain six spots over the first couple of laps, but thereafter he was inevitably forced into a rear-guard battle and a superb defensive effort enabled him to grittily cling onto a points-scoring 14th place at the chequered flag.
With the weight removed and the faster tyres now bolted onto the #80 Avensis, Ingram executed an excellent opening lap in race two to advance to ninth, after which the 24-year-old demoted defending champion Ash Sutton and Tom Oliphant in short order before opportunistically undercutting both Rob Collard and James Cole as they squabbled into Redgate on lap three to grab fifth.
Swiftly latching onto the pack ahead, Ingram pulled off copycat moves on Aiden Moffat and race one-winner Josh Cook on the run down the Craner Curves to close onto the tail of the top two by mid-distance. He followed Chris Smiley past Dan Cammish into second at Schwantz Curve on lap nine, and when the new leader ran slightly wide exiting Coppice next time around, the Toyota man required no second invitation to stick his Avensis’ nose up the inside.
Although Smiley squeezed Ingram onto the grass heading down the back straight, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion was not to be denied and boldly kept his foot planted to seize the initiative. Thereafter, he inched away, unleashing a string of ultra-consistent laps and even finding time to save a spectacular sideways slide through McLeans to become the first multiple winner of the season – in so doing, equalling two-time Formula 1 World Champion Clark’s tally of eight BTCC triumphs.
From ninth on the reversed grid for the day’s finale and having to contend with full ballast once again, Ingram artfully avoided opening lap carnage that left cars littering the track to climb to seventh. He would go on to feature as high as fourth before the weight increasingly took its toll, forcing him to give best to a handful of significantly lighter rivals.
Eighth position at the flag nonetheless allowed the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member to more than double his advantage in the overall Drivers’ Championship from three points to seven, while sprinting 18 points clear of his nearest pursuer in the Independents’ Trophy standings. Speedworks sit an excellent third in the Teams’ table – best-placed of the single-car entrants – and now hold a 16-point lead in the defence of their hard-fought Independent Teams’ laurels heading next to ultra-fast Thruxton on 19/20 May.
“To come away with another very solid points haul and still leading three of the four championships, I would call that a pretty successful weekend,” summarised the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick.
“We knew we needed to get rid of the ballast and hard tyres as quickly as possible if we were going to fight for a decent result, so we took a double hit in race one. Fourteenth probably exceeded our expectations in the circumstances, and with most of our main championship competitors finishing in roughly the same area, it was the perfect exercise in damage limitation.
“With the weight gone and the faster tyres back on the car for race two, Tom produced a truly stunning drive. We had been thinking the top six may be possible and were hoping to luck into the reversed grid draw for race three, so to storm through the way he did and make it look as easy as he did was simply breathtaking.
“The last one was more of a struggle again with the ballast back; the extra weight means you work the tyres harder, which increasingly hurts your performance and whilst that prevented Tom from being able to attack, to keep pace with the battle for the final podium position I thought was very impressive.
“I’m incredibly proud of the way all the Speedworks boys are approaching each race weekend, and to arrive carrying more weight than anybody else and leave having increased our advantage is testament to the fantastic job that each and every one of them is doing. We’re in good shape right now and of all the circuits on the calendar, Thruxton is arguably the one that punishes ballast the least due to its fast, flowing nature. Having taken two podiums there last year, I think we can go back feeling quietly optimistic about pushing for a strong set of results.”
“Another very positive weekend,” echoed Ingram, “and one over the course of which we learnt a lot. We genuinely struggled on Saturday, although I’m pretty confident in saying that at least seven tenths of our nine-tenth deficit to pole was due to the weight.
“That left us out-of-position and slightly on the back foot going into race day, and we deliberately decided to take the bullet as early as possible by putting the hard tyres on for race one. It was a strategic gamble, but it was one that had paid off last year and it worked again. I knew I would be super-vulnerable so just wanted to stay out-of-trouble and get to the end. We managed to hold on to bag a couple of points, and then effectively our weekend started from there.
“Race two was very similar to the one we won at Brands Hatch. We knew we had the pace with the weight taken out and it was great fun scything through. The Avensis was so hooked-up – simply incredible to drive. I fully expected Chris [Smiley] to be a tough nut to crack but I could see I was stronger in a couple of areas and once I got a little bit of an overlap, I didn’t need asking twice!
“Our speed there went to show just how much of a factor ballast plays at Donington – and that was evident again in race three, with the weight back on-board. I made up ground wherever I could, but after that, with everybody around me being significantly lighter, I was a bit powerless really.
“Still, to finish eighth was a decent result and looking back overall, it’s pretty cool to have now won the same number of BTCC races as Jim Clark, who is an absolute legend of the sport. While I couldn’t ever dream of going on to achieve the same kind of results as he did in his career, it’s still a nice statistic to have and gives me even more motivation to carry on winning and hopefully emulate another of his accomplishments in ultimately taking the series title.
“Next we go to Thruxton, which is one of my favourite circuits on the calendar – a truly awesome, old-school challenge. It’s likely to be another uphill battle on Saturday, but then hopefully we can pull it back on Sunday – and besides, we went there last season carrying full ballast and came away with three top four finishes. I’ve got a fantastic team behind me who give me one hell of a car every time we take to the track, and it keeps on getting better and better – so let’s see what we can do!”