Ingram reignites title bid with peerless Knockhill masterclass
Tom Ingram reignited his bid for the coveted Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship crown with his third outright victory of 2017 at Knockhill last weekend (12/13 August), hailing an ‘awesome effort’ from Speedworks Motorsport as he stormed away from his pursuers in the quest for Independents’ glory.
Although a self-confessed fan of Knockhill’s rapid rollercoaster ride, Ingram travelled north of the border with some apprehension, given that the tight-and-twisty, undulating Fife circuit has traditionally tended to favour short-wheelbase, rear wheel-drive cars – everything that Speedworks’ Toyota Avensis is not.
The talented young Bucks ace nonetheless pulled an excellent lap out of the bag in a wet-but-drying, red flag-punctuated qualifying session. A late flyer secured him fifth on the grid amongst the 32 contenders – some of the finest touring car protagonists on the planet – as he set the front wheel-drive standard in Scotland for the second year in a row in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
After valiantly fending off James Cole’s palpably faster Subaru Levorg for the opening half of race one, Ingram proceeded to take the chequered flag a strong sixth, winding up well clear of the next-best front wheel-drive entrant and making light of the 39kg of success ballast on-board to clinch his sixth Independents’ Trophy win of the campaign.
The 23-year-old subsequently survived a tag from Senna Proctor at the start of race two that sent him fishtailing down the straight, before carnage just behind brought out the red flags. Once the action resumed, Ingram conceded ground to home favourites Gordon Shedden and Dave Newsham, but a dogged defence against three-time champion Matt Neal yielded eighth position – and a starting spot of third for the day’s reversed grid finale.
Fired-up to put on a show for the live ITV4 television cameras, the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member wasted little time in scything his way into the lead, and by one-quarter distance, he was already almost five seconds ahead of his nearest challenger – reigning title-holder Gordon Shedden. Rather than falling back into his Honda rival’s clutches, however, he continued to increase that advantage, posting fastest lap after fastest lap in a metronomically consistent display.
In a different class to everybody else, Ingram was a staggering nine seconds in front – an eternity in touring car terms – when the safety car was deployed on lap 17 for a stranded car further down the order, instantly reducing his imperious margin to next to nothing.
After sprinting clear again at the re-start, the race was neutralised once more just four laps later, but the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion held his nerve and his reward was a magnificent third triumph of the season – his first since Donington Park back in April following a torrid recent run.
The maximum score strengthened Ingram’s grasp on fifth place in the overall Drivers’ standings and enabled him to extend his Independents’ Trophy lead from 15 points to 47. Speedworks similarly consolidated its hold on fourth position in the Teams’ table, while reclaiming the top spot in the Independent Teams’ classification.
“What a cracking result,” enthused the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal Christian Dick. “Not only that, but for it to have come at one of the circuits we would have least expected just goes to show that we have turned this Avensis into a true all-rounder.
“The first two races went pretty much as anticipated given the rear wheel-drive advantage at Knockhill, so to then dominate race three in the way that we did was beyond our wildest dreams. We knew we were in with a chance from where we were starting, and Tom completely controlled proceedings throughout. The car was absolutely spot-on, and if you look at the calibre of the two drivers directly behind him at the re-starts – Gordon Shedden and Colin Turkington, multiple BTCC champions both – to drive away from them as effortlessly as he did was quite remarkable. Nobody could touch him.
“This win gives everybody in the team a real boost after working so hard to fight back from our mid-season malaise. Following the rough weekends at Oulton Park and Croft, to respond in such emphatic fashion proved that our early success in 2017 was far from a flash in the pan.
“We are just a small, single-car team up against bigger and better-funded rivals, so to be doing what we are doing is simply stunning. Although we clearly have some ground to regain, we’re not giving up on the overall title – not by a long shot – and with the remaining three circuits all likely to play to the Avensis’ strengths, we will be pushing as hard as we possibly can to close that gap. It really is game on from here.”
“What a brilliant weekend!” echoed Ingram. “We honestly didn’t expect that heading to Knockhill, because on paper, it isn’t the kind of track that should have suited us at all. Our primary goal was to lead the front wheel-drive brigade and whilst qualifying turned into something of a lottery in the changeable conditions, I doubt we would have been higher than fifth in any case, so it was a good result from our perspective.
“In race one, I really don’t think we could have got any more out of the car, but we struggled a touch more in race two – the balance wasn’t quite so good, and some drivers got unnecessarily physical, which cost us a couple of places. Still, it was another solid result that left us well in the mix for race three – and that obviously paid off nicely.
“It’s funny; I came on the radio after about five laps and joked, ‘when do you reckon the safety car is going to appear, boys?’ because it’s never that straightforward, is it – and then, of course, we got two of them in swift succession! The Avensis was the best it’s ever been, though – absolutely mint – so even when that did happen, I wasn’t unduly concerned because I knew we had the legs on the guys behind and I managed to gap Gordon straightaway, which gave me a bit of breathing space.
“It was fantastic to be back on the top step of the podium – it’s been quite a while! Huge credit to everybody at Speedworks – they did me proud and put one hell of a car underneath me. My engineer Geoff was superb on the radio – he let me know everything that was going on, which made my life so much easier – and I cannot thank him, the team and all of our amazing sponsors enough for an awesome effort.
“So much of the bad luck we’ve encountered this season has not been our fault, which is very frustrating, but we always knew we had a great package and that it was a matter of when rather than if it was going to come good again, and it’s great to finally prove that.
“Rockingham next should suit us significantly better, so if the Avensis is even half as quick as it was in race three at Knockhill, hopefully we can keep this positive momentum going. We’re definitely still in with a chance of the overall championship spoils, although realistically, we will need a bit of luck now. That said, after Oulton Park and Croft, I don’t think anybody could argue that we don’t deserve some good fortune...”