Tom Ingram got his 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship campaign back on-track at Snetterton last weekend (29/30 July), with a hard-fought trio of top ten finishes for Speedworks Motorsport seeing the talented young Bucks ace extend his advantage in the Independents’ Trophy.
After stealing the show earlier in the season by soaring into the lead in both the overall and Independents’ title battles, Ingram and Speedworks endured a rough ride at Oulton Park and Croft, scoring just nine points from six races – largely as a result of other drivers’ errors – and slipping down the standings.
Following a seven-week summer break to regroup and recharge the batteries, the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit returned to action at Snetterton in Norfolk buoyed by a positive performance in the pre-event Dunlop tyre test there.
The squad’s confidence looked to be well-placed as Ingram lapped fastest in opening practice, but a slight change of direction in the second session in a bid to extract even more pace from the #80 Toyota Avensis backfired, leaving the multiple Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion a disappointed fifth on the grid amongst the 31 high-calibre contenders – some of the finest touring car protagonists anywhere on the planet.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras, Ingram briefly got the better of Matt Neal on the first lap of race one before applying the pressure on the three-time BTCC Champion in a four-way fight for fourth. An ‘off’ for the leader subsequently turned that into a scrap for the podium, and the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member was preparing his attack when he found himself unceremoniously sideswiped by Rob Austin, who locked up behind and forced the Avensis almost into the circuit barriers.
Although Ingram was able to scrabble back onto the track in eighth place, light suspension damage from the contact meant there was no hope of recovering lost ground and in race two, he languished outside of the top ten for a while as he struggled for speed on the softer-compound tyres. A late pass on Jake Hill secured tenth spot at the chequered flag and with it an outside chance of pole position for the reversed grid finale – but again, Lady Luck did not deign to smile as another driver’s number was drawn instead.
After rising to eighth on the opening lap, the 23-year-old emerged on top of a mid-race battle with Neal and Hill for sixth and had closed right onto the tail of the duel for fourth by the end, narrowly running out of time to mount a challenge. The result saw Ingram consolidate fifth spot in the overall Drivers’ classification while increasing his Independents’ Trophy lead from three points to 15. Speedworks retain fourth place in the Teams’ rankings and second in the Independent Teams’ table.
“I think overall, we have to be happy with the weekend,” adjudged Team Principal Christian Dick. “Having lost our early-season momentum at Oulton Park and Croft – even though it was through no fault of our own – the pressure was beginning to build and we really needed three solid finishes at Snetterton. To that end, we decided to adopt a no-risk strategy and we probably weren’t quite as adventurous with the car’s set-up as we had been in the first few rounds, which was reflected in qualifying.
“In race one, I think there’s no doubt Tom would have ended up on the podium but for Austin’s poorly-executed overtaking attempt. We appreciated Rob coming up afterwards to apologise to Tom for his mistake, but ultimately, it changed the entire complexion of the weekend for us and spoiled what could have been a considerably higher points score.
“In race two, we were a bit too cautious in our approach with the soft tyres on, but by race three, we had got the car a lot closer to the window in terms of performance, which allowed Tom to really go on the attack. At the end of the day, it was a weekend of ‘could have beens’ after the unnecessary contact in race one, but looking forward, the main thing is that we’re back on-track and back in contention – and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be similarly in the mix at all four remaining events.”
“We felt really confident going into the weekend,” added Ingram. “Having haemorrhaged points at both Oulton Park and Croft, we needed to fight back and come away with a strong haul from Snetterton if we were to stay in the championship hunt. After the summer break, I felt refreshed, excited and ready to banish the bad energy from the end of the first half of the season.
“Snetterton’s layout traditionally favours long-wheelbase, low-drag cars – which is exactly what our Avensis is – but for a variety of reasons, it had never quite worked out for us there in the past. Things looked to be going better this year in FP1, but then we went slightly in the wrong direction on set-up in FP2 and that impacted on qualifying. Whilst fifth place itself was far from a disaster, we were surprised to be the best part of a second away from pole position.
“In race one, Matt Neal and I had quite a good little tussle over the opening lap, but I didn’t want to push my luck too much with the new driving standards rules that have been introduced. Matt was on the softer tyres, so I knew there would be chances later on and it was very much a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ – and then all of a sudden, I found myself being driven off the track...
“Race two was more of a struggle on the soft rubber. I was determined to get past Hill to put us in with a shot at the reversed grid, which I did, but then the draw obviously didn’t work out in our favour anyway. The car felt a lot stronger in race three on the standard tyre and I was able to fight through to finish sixth. That was obviously encouraging, but at the same time went to show what might have been if we hadn’t been harpooned earlier in the day.
“Next up is Knockhill, which on paper is exactly the kind of track that shouldn’t suit the Avensis, but Snetterton showed that the theory isn’t always borne out and we qualified on the front row in Scotland last year, so we will go there with an open mind and in optimistic mood. After that, the remaining circuits should all play very much to our strengths – so if we can just get through Knockhill in reasonable shape, it will be game on for the end of the season!”