Tom Ingram demonstrated his overtaking prowess as the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship stopped off at Rockingham, where a spectacular charge through the field carried him to within a whisker of a top ten finish having started from virtually the back of the grid.
Ingram arrived at Rockingham boasting an unblemished record around the challenging Northamptonshire circuit since 2011, with six straight victories to his credit there in the Ginetta GT Supercup – including an astonishing 30-second triumph last year, when he lapped almost half the field.
The talented young High Wycombe ace was well aware that it would be a different proposition altogether in the ITV4 live-televised BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-contested tin-top series – but sixth position in the opening free practice session followed by a superb fourth place in the next immediately indicated that he meant business. In FP2, indeed, a mere five hundredths-of-a-second would have put Ingram second.
Unfortunately, however, an early mistake in qualifying left the championship’s standout rookie on the back foot in his Hughes-backed, Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Avensis and unable to replicate his stellar practice form. The upshot was 12th on the timesheets for race one amongst the 31 high-calibre contenders, less than a tenth-of-a-second adrift of ninth and just two tenths away from the top six in a tremendously close field.
Surrounded on the grid by a gaggle of fast-starting rear wheel-drive cars, it was inevitable that Ingram would concede ground when the lights went out in the opening encounter, but a feisty performance saw him incisively pick off hometown rival Jack Goff and three-time BTCC Champion Matt Neal prior to a mid-race safety car appearance. Thereafter he pushed hard and took the chequered flag 13th, right in the wheeltracks of a trio of adversaries all tussling over tenth place.
Running on the softer-compound Dunlop rubber in race two, the blu and Hansford Sensors-supported KX Akademy graduate spent much of the time duelling energetically with works Honda driver Neal and passed him for 14th with five laps remaining. He was subsequently homing in on the pack ahead when a sudden tyre blow-out sent the #80 car careering broadside into Nick Foster’s BMW at Tarzan Hairpin, spelling an early bath for both.
The DNF meant Ingram began the third and final outing from 24th – just five places from the very back – but a scintillating opening lap saw him make up a staggering six positions. He continued to progress with impressive alacrity, and by dint of looking after his tyres – always a trump card in his skill set – the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar and MSA Academy member was able to capitalise and reap the rewards as others dropped back. When the flag fell, he was less than 0.07s shy of what would have been his 11th BTCC top ten finish.
“I enjoy Rockingham and have achieved a lot of success there,” mused the three-time Ginetta Champion and erstwhile British Karting Champion – at just 21, the second-youngest driver in the field. “It’s a tricky place to set the car up for, with a stark contrast between the tight, technical infield section and the high-speed banking.
“Our biggest concern going into the weekend was that it would be a particularly tough circuit on tyre durability – an area in which we have tended to struggle with the Avensis this year. That meant we were expecting quite a difficult time of things, but we soon realised that most teams were in the same boat and our pace in practice was mega – to be inside the top six in both sessions was way beyond what we had been hoping for.
“That naturally raised our expectations somewhat, but then in qualifying, we fitted new brake pads and discs to the car and heading into Tarzan for the first time, it caught me out and I went straight on through the gravel. Fortunately, there was no real damage, but it did knock my confidence a bit. Whilst 12th position on the grid was far from a disaster, it was also far from what we thought we might be capable of after practice.
“We didn’t have the outright speed to close up on other cars and go for moves in race one, but in race two, the soft tyres held on better than we had anticipated and we had some solid pace in the latter stages. I was making inroads into the two drivers ahead until on lap 14, one of my tyres blew on the exit of Gracelands and when I jumped on the brakes for Tarzan, they just locked up and I couldn’t slow down at all – I was a passenger from that point on. I felt really bad for Nick – but there was nothing I could have done.
“The damage to my car certainly kept the Speedworks boys busy up to the start of race three, and they did a fantastic repair job. After gaining some early ground, I fought hard throughout, looking for gaps and focussing on making the most of every single opportunity. It was really encouraging to get so close to the top ten in the end, although obviously also a little frustrating to just miss out – all we needed was a few more yards and we’d have pulled ahead. I might have to ask them to move the finish line a bit further down the track for next year..!”