Ingram in seventh heaven after racing into championship lead in BTCC opener
Tom Ingram produced a peerless performance to tally his seventh career victory in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch last weekend (7/8 April), as the Speedworks Motorsport star outpaced all of his rivals to soar to the summit of the Drivers’ standings.
Having clinched both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Independent crowns last year – and finished an outstanding third in the overall Drivers’ table – Ingram and Speedworks have even greater glories in their sights in 2018, and the talented young Bucks ace laid down an early marker by topping the first timed practice session of the year for the fourth straight season.
In cooler and breezier conditions for qualifying, however, Ingram found himself plagued by oversteer. Although he wound up barely two tenths-of-a-second shy of the outright benchmark, in such an intensely close field, the Brands Hatch Indy BTCC lap record-holder was forced to settle for a frustrated ninth on the starting grid amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and on a greasy circuit following earlier rain, Ingram wasted little time in moving forward in race one, gaining three spots on the opening lap alone. Behind the wheel of Speedworks’ #80 Toyota Avensis, the 24-year-old subsequently pulled off a brace of superb overtakes to advance to fourth, after which he zeroed in on the three leaders. Posting the fastest second sector of anybody, he ultimately ran out of time but the result nonetheless represented an excellent recovery from his qualifying disappointment.
Although the track surface was beginning to dry by the start of race two, it remained extremely damp in places and all of the front-runners played safe by bolting on wet Dunlop tyres. Making an instant break in company with Jack Goff and Andrew Jordan, Ingram despatched the former courtesy of a tremendous run out of Clearways completing the opening tour and dealt with the latter in similarly decisive fashion seven laps later.
With a dry line rapidly emerging and conditions increasingly favouring the slick-shod competitors, the three-time Ginetta Champion and erstwhile British Karting Champion held sway at the front of the field until lap 21, when he found himself defenceless as those drivers on dry-weather rubber scythed their way through at a rate of knots. He ultimately took the chequered flag 11th – second-highest amongst the wet tyre contingent.
With his Avensis ballast-free for the day’s finale, Ingram went immediately on the attack, progressing to seventh on lap one and reading developing situations to perfection to fight through to fourth on lap two. Following a short safety car intervention, a textbook re-start saw him wrong-foot Aiden Moffat for third into Paddock Hill Bend, before snatching second at the end of lap seven and setting off after the leader with headlights ablaze.
After successfully making his move just before mid-distance, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member extended his advantage to almost five seconds at one stage before easing off to bring it home for his first triumph of the campaign – and arguably his finest to-date. His success secured Ingram the lead in both the overall Drivers’ and Independents’ Trophy classification, with Speedworks similarly at the top of the Independent Teams’ table and a close second outright ahead of the next outing at Donington Park on 28/29 April.
“All of the Speedworks boys did an absolutely immense job over the winter, and the attention-to-detail that has gone into the development of the Avensis is truly second-to-none,” underlined the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick. “The quality of the engineering is what really stands out to me, and I think that was proved by our form in both wet and dry conditions at Brands Hatch.
“We struggled for balance in qualifying which meant we couldn’t nail a lap, but we didn’t panic and everybody dug deep to turn the situation around. Come race day, the car was really hooked-up, which is massive credit to everybody involved – none more so than Spencer Aldridge. It was Spencer’s first official weekend as race engineer, and the pressure was arguably on his shoulders more than anybody else. He started out with us 15 years ago straight from school and he’s been with Speedworks ever since, working his way up through the ranks. He did a phenomenal job.
“Tom then drove the absolute wheels off the Avensis in all three races as he always does, fighting when he needed to, managing the pace when he could and leading more laps than anybody else. Race one was an excellent performance, he was controlling race two until the conditions changed and the last race was a masterclass.
“To win on the first weekend of the season three years in a row is brilliant, and to come away leading the Drivers’ championship and only a single point off the top of the Teams’ table, I can’t praise everybody highly enough – just awesome. Now we move on to Donington Park full of confidence. Yes, we’ll have maximum ballast in the Avensis for qualifying and race one, but our winter testing was all conducted with weight on-board, so we’re as well-prepared as we have ever been and are looking forward to it tremendously.”
“Fantastic!” echoed Ingram. “There was a lot of pressure on us arriving at Brands, with people expecting us to qualify on the front row and win the first race after doing so for the last two seasons, but we had a bit of an uphill battle this time. We genuinely struggled for pace in free practice and qualifying, but Spencer and Christian did an amazing job to give me a phenomenal race car and it was really enjoyable out there.
“To immediately come out fighting on race day I think underscores the strength of character of this team. I feel a genuine sense of pride about the way Spencer has grown into this role and made it his own. The manner in which he handled everything over the weekend – particularly when the odds looked to be stacked against us – was hugely impressive. Between him and Christian, we have one hell of an engineering team here and they made my life easy, to be honest.
“I hung on for as long as possible in race two, but it was clear it was slipping away from us and there was literally nothing I could do about that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; perhaps we should have taken a risk and gone for slicks, but at the time, wets were absolutely the right choice and with all of our main rivals leaning that way, we had no option but to play safe as to do otherwise would have left us massively vulnerable.
“After that, I honestly didn’t expect to win race three from so far down the grid – I’m proper chuffed. The Avensis was an absolute joy to drive and so stable on the brakes, which meant I could pick people off pretty much where I wanted – it was fun being able to just throw it down the inside into Clearways time after time. We put weight in it and it’s mega; we take the weight out, it’s mega. We really seem to have found its sweet spot now and that is all credit to this team and our awesome partners. I think it’s fair to say we nailed Brands Hatch – so bring on Donington!”