Ingram overcomes electrical issues to set electrifying Thruxton pace
Tom Ingram looked to be in for a long day at the office when alternator failure forced him out of the first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Thruxton last weekend (19/20 May), but the Speedworks Motorsport star refused to be beaten and his reward for a spectacular charge through the field was a solid points haul and a new lap record around the fastest circuit in the country.
Following two sublime victories from the opening six contests, Ingram arrived at Thruxton as the early-season pace-setter in what is commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-disputed tin-top series, but success is always a double-edged sword in the all-action BTCC as the regulations oblige the championship leader to carry 75kg of additional weight going into a new weekend.
The talented young Bucks ace impressed in qualifying as he hauled his ballast-laden Toyota Avensis around Thruxton’s flat-out sweepers to provisionally secure an outstanding third place amongst the 32 high-calibre contenders – some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet.
Unfortunately, track limits transgressions – of which he was far from the only driver to fall foul – saw Ingram deprived of his three quickest lap times, dropping him to tenth on the grid for race one, albeit still ahead of all his closest competitors in the points table. The 24-year-old was maintaining that position – in the midst of a multi-car scrap over fifth – when the alternator issue intervened and consigned him to an early bath, his first non-score of 2018.
Worse still, the failure to finish left Ingram 32nd and last on the grid for race two, but in front of the live ITV4 television cameras, he wasted no time at all in scything his way through the order, gaining seven spots on the opening lap, another seven by the end of lap three and progressing into the points by mid-distance. He went on to take the chequered flag 12th, less than two seconds shy of the top ten courtesy of a monumental effort that brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
From there, the three-time Ginetta Champion and former British Karting Champion fancied his chances in the day’s finale, but the position of the sun meant he was unable to see the five-second board that is displayed just before the starting lights go out and rather than gaining ground, he initially fell back.
Immediately going on the attack, Ingram unleashed a scintillating turn-of-speed to fight past his rivals, circulating more than three tenths-of-a-second faster than anybody else and posting a blistering new lap record along the way as he zeroed in on the four-car fight over fourth, pinching seventh from three-time BTCC Champion and race one winner Matt Neal beginning the last lap.
His charge keeps the KX Akademy graduate and MSA Academy member firmly in the title hunt in third place, just 11 points shy of the summit of the Drivers’ standings and a close second in the Independents’ Trophy. Speedworks sit sixth in the outright Teams’ table and third amongst the Independent Team entries, with home turf beckoning next at Oulton Park on 9/10 June.
“We proved once again last weekend that we have strong pace,” reflected the Northwich, Cheshire-based outfit’s Team Principal, Christian Dick. “For Tom to set a lap time quick enough for third on the grid in qualifying while carrying full ballast was nothing short of sensational. It was unfortunate to be penalised for the tiniest of transgressions that didn’t gain us any discernible advantage, but rules are rules.
“What subsequently happened in race one was evidently frustrating and unquestionably denied us a better overall result, but to leave with a new lap record, a solid clutch of points and still well in contention is definitely a positive. We’ve scored in all bar one race so far this season, which is a measure of our consistency, and there was nothing anybody could have done to prevent the failure – it was just one of those things that happens sometimes.
“Tom produced an absolutely storming drive to make up no fewer than 20 positions from his grid slot in race two, and without the problem at the start, I think he could have won race three, or at the very least finished on the podium.
“Nevertheless, we’ve shed some ballast going to Oulton, which is notoriously tough on weight and the speed we showed coming through the pack in races two and three at Thruxton gives us plenty of cause for optimism. Our home event is always a big weekend for us in the presence of partners, family and friends, and there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t feature right up at the sharp end again.”
“Not having to carry as much weight with us to Oulton is certainly a relief,” echoed Ingram. “I probably just got a little bit too greedy in qualifying at Thruxton; I’d say sixth place was representative of our true pace, and whilst it was clearly frustrating to be relegated to tenth on the grid, that was far from the end of the world.
“Unfortunately, we lost all the electrics very early in race one, including the power steering, which made it really hard work to hang on through the faster corners. We tried various fixes, but then the alternator gave up completely on lap five and I had to retire. I had some fun in race two coming through from the back. I couldn’t even see the lights from where I was starting – my engineer had to call them for me over the radio – but our goal was to get into the points and we did that without picking up any damage, which was a great result.
“We were really quick again in race three, but all chance of pushing for a podium if not better disappeared at the start. It would obviously have been nice to finish higher than seventh, but to come away with 14 championship points after the dramas of race one was a pretty decent job in damage limitation, and to beat a lap record that had stood for 16 years prior to the weekend and that had been set by such a touring car legend as Yvan Muller is a pretty cool achievement.
“With overtaking so difficult at Oulton, your weekend there is very often conditioned by your qualifying performance, so more than ever, the key will be to secure a strong grid slot and then see what we can do. It’s going to be a long season with a lot of title contenders, and we’re very much in the fight.”