- Defending BTCC champion fights his way to top step of the podium
- EXCELR8 star channels anger into show-stopping performance
- 30-year-old encouraged by form ahead of season’s final six races
Tom Ingram quipped that he ‘maybe needs to be angry more often’, after converting frustration into a 27th British Touring Car Championship victory at Donington Park last weekend (26/27 August) following one of the finest drives of his impressive career.
Ingram was frustrated for two reasons at Donington. With the BTCC competing on the Leicestershire circuit’s famous ‘GP’ loop for the first time in more than two decades, all he had by way of recent experience of the 2.49-mile layout was the mid-season tyre test last month, so missing the majority of the opening free practice session after his left-rear wheel parted company with his Hyundai i30N was a far-from-ideal start.
The defending champion in the UK’s premier motor racing series consequently went into qualifying with little representative running under his belt – but he did not let that hold him back. Leaping to the head of the order early on amongst the 26 high-calibre contenders, he was subsequently displaced by chief rival Ash Sutton, but looked set to reclaim the top spot with barely two minutes left on the clock until a lock-up going into the final corner scuppered his pole position push.
That was the weekend’s first frustration. The next came in race one. On a wet track surface, Ingram made a stellar start to immediately snatch the lead, but his advantage would prove to be short-lived, as Sutton fought his way back in front towards the end of lap two and proceeded to speed clear.
Switching his focus to conserving second place, the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star determinedly fended off a hard-charging Jake Hill in the closing stages to take the chequered flag a scant 0.049s ahead in a real photo-finish, before being controversially penalised for his defence and demoted to third.
What followed was inspired. In now dry conditions and in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd, Ingram was in no mood for hanging about in race two. Within the space of just four laps, he pulled off near-identical overtakes on Hill and Sutton heading down the Craner Curves into the Old Hairpin, boldly holding his nerve on both occasions to seize the initiative.
On lap nine, he judiciously applied some of the little hybrid ‘boost’ available to him to post fastest lap – worth an additional point – and increase his lead, and when the flag fell at the end of a real statement drive, he was almost three seconds clear of his duelling pursuers.
From 12th on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale – and with the least hybrid deployment in the field by virtue of his earlier win – the talented Bucks-born ace made short work of Sutton again. He was continuing to move forward and was on-course to outscore the championship leader for the second consecutive race until he found himself forced wide by a driver heading for the pits with a puncture.
The delay cost Ingram ground and restricted him to seventh place, leaving him 42 points shy of the summit of the standings in second position with six rounds remaining. Next up in four weeks’ time is the legendary ‘Home of British Motor Racing’, Silverstone (23/24 September), where the 30-year-old has triumphed on six occasions since 2016 – and where he will be targeting silverware once again in his bid to take the 2023 title fight down to the wire at Brands Hatch on 7/8 October.
Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:
“We’ve driven Donington Park’s ‘National’ circuit no end of times over the years, and it’s amazing how different the ‘GP’ loop feels; there are only a couple of extra corners, but they completely change the dynamic of the lap. We went there expecting to be in good shape after the tyre test, but we lost out on dry running due to our issues in free practice, and in qualifying, I messed up.
“That was so frustrating. We’ve worked hard over the last few weeks to reduce the deficit, and maybe there was an element of me getting over-excited because I knew we had the pace to really challenge for the first time in a while. To go ‘purple’ in sectors one and two and then lose four tenths-of-a-second in the final corner was a bitter pill to swallow, and I spent the rest of the day kicking myself over it as we should have been on pole.
“After the car felt so good in the dry, we unfortunately went the wrong way on set-up for the wet weather in race one and Ash [Sutton] was in a different class. When I saw him coming, there was nothing I could do and as soon as he was past, he seemed able to find grip and traction that I couldn’t. I tried to hang onto his coat-tails, but he just disappeared into the distance.
“Once we bolted the slicks on for race two, I thought, ‘this is on – we’re having this’. The team did a great job and the Hyundai absolutely came alive. Perhaps there was a little bit of anger from my side thrown into it, too – maybe I need to be angry more often!
“It was the best the car has felt all year, which is really encouraging, and to put it right when it counted and come away with some big points after my mistake on Saturday was really satisfying and the least I could do. We really needed that.
“Honestly, I’ve never been so pumped following a race. Having been on the back foot all season and trying to play catch-up, it feels like we’ve taken a genuine step forward and have unlocked some real performance. Together with my engineer, Spencer and the whole team, we’ve been looking into every area to get the i30N back to the way we remembered it from last year, and it just felt phenomenal.
“They’ve given me one hell of a car that I can truly go on the attack with, and it actually feels like we’ve got a chance again. It might be too late now for the championship, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Never say never…”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography