Ingram forced to dig deep to stay in the hunt on Speedworks' home soil
Speedworks Motorsport always anticipated that its home event in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park (9/10 June) would be a challenging affair, but a gritty performance by Tom Ingram kept driver and team alike firmly in title contention.
Ingram travelled to Oulton – less than ten miles down the road from Speedworks’ Northwich workshop – sitting third in the standings in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series, after twice reaching the top step of the rostrum during the opening nine races of the 2018 campaign.
That also meant, however, that the talented young Bucks ace would have to tackle both qualifying and race one with 57kg of success ballast aboard his #80 Toyota Avensis – a notable handicap around Oulton, with its famously undulating, stop-start layout.
Despite getting off to a bright start by lapping second-quickest in the first free practice session amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet – the extra weight told in qualifying as Ingram could manage no higher than 17th on the grid, right in the thick of the midfield scrap.
To compound matters, Oulton Park is arguably the toughest circuit at which to overtake on the BTCC calendar, and the reigning Independents’ Champion had to work hard in race one simply to crack the top 15 points-scoring positions.
Having rid himself of the excess ballast for race two, Ingram – headlights ablaze – went on the attack, gaining a couple of spots on the opening tour and making up more ground to tenth by the chequered flag. He posted the fastest lap along the way – his second of the season – in evidence of the Avensis’ pace and potential.
Although out-of-luck in the reversed grid draw for race three, the 24-year-old remained unbowed. After outfoxing Ollie Jackson at the start, he proceeded to chase down, pressurise and ultimately fight his way past three-time BTCC Champion Matt Neal, before picking off Tom Chilton and James Cole over the last couple of laps with a series of gutsy overtaking manoeuvres in front of the live ITV4 television cameras.
Delighting the capacity crowd as he kept on pushing right to the end, Ingram’s tireless perseverance was rewarded with sixth place and a solid clutch of points, leaving him fourth in the overall title chase heading next to Croft in North Yorkshire on 23/24 June – and very much still in the hunt.
The three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion is just six points shy of the summit in the Independents’ Trophy, with Speedworks seventh in the Teams’ table and fourth in the Independent Teams’ classification – similarly well in touch.
“I think that’s what you would describe as the perfect exercise in damage limitation,” reflected the Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick. “We always enjoy racing at Oulton Park – it’s our home circuit, which means we invariably receive tremendous support from sponsors, family and friends – but by the same token, we knew it was never going to be a particularly easy weekend.
“Oulton historically tends to favour the rear wheel-drive cars, meaning when you pitch up with a front wheel-drive car laden down with success ballast, you’re almost certainly going to be in for an uphill struggle.
“Qualifying was obviously disappointing, but we refused to be beaten and made progress in every race, courtesy of an excellent performance by Tom, whose controlled aggression proved to be the optimum approach in allowing him to pick up places where he could while sensibly staying out of trouble. Who knows, the extra point he scored for setting fastest lap in race two might turn out to be crucial come season’s end, so overall, it was a job well done by all concerned and we will go to Croft in optimistic mood.”
“At least it was much better than last year!” quipped Ingram, referring to a weekend that had set off a chain of events that effectively torpedoed his bid for outright championship glory in 2017. “Saying that, there was a fair bit of head-scratching going on after qualifying. We knew we weren’t going to be fighting for pole position, but we were hoping to be somewhere inside the top ten. We had good pace in FP1, but then we never went any quicker and in such a close session, that really hurt us.
“The car was actually very nicely-balanced, even with the ballast on-board and I felt I got the best out of it that I could in the circumstances, but unfortunately, that was only good enough for 17th, which left us properly on the back foot. Oulton Park is the worst place all season to start down the grid; as soon as you’re outside the top ten there, you can pretty much kiss your weekend goodbye in terms of grabbing any strong results.
“The positive is that we moved forward in all three races. We snatched a point in race one even with the weight, and in race two, the Avensis truly came alive on the soft tyres. We had a lot of pace – as the fastest lap proved – but being stuck in a traffic jam like we were, there was nothing we could really do with it. Our goal was to get into the top 12 to give ourselves a chance in the reversed grid draw, and we successfully achieved that.
“Race three then opened up towards the end, and I got my elbows out and grabbed every opportunity I saw. Ultimately, we salvaged as much as we could from the weekend and we didn’t lose out too much points-wise. We’re still right up there and will carry a bit less weight with us to Croft, which is a circuit I love. I’m confident we’ll be in good shape, so let’s see if we can claw back some ground...”