- Outgoing champion adds two more podiums to career tally at Brands Hatch
- EXCELR8 star hails team’s performance after finishing season as runner-up
- Bucks-born ace has already set his sights on reclaiming the crown in 2024
Tom Ingram ‘gave it everything and a little bit more’ in his valiant attempt to retain his British Touring Car Championship crown at Brands Hatch last weekend (7/8 October), and though the mountain ultimately proved too tall to climb, he was justifiably proud of his performance and has vowed to come back stronger in 2024.
Trailing championship leader Ash Sutton by 45 points heading to Brands’ legendary ‘GP’ circuit – with only 67 remaining in play – Ingram knew the odds were stacked firmly against him, but he was in no mood to simply roll over.
The only driver still mathematically capable of beating Sutton, the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star put his Hyundai i30N third on the grid in qualifying amongst the 27 high-calibre contenders – and under sunny autumnal skies in the curtain-raising contest the next day, he went immediately on the offensive.
After relieving Rory Butcher of second with a committed pass up the inside into Druids on the opening lap – in front of the live ITV4 television cameras – he served notice of his intent by lunging Sutton into Surtees two corners later.
Although the move did not quite come off, Ingram continued to pressurise his arch-rival throughout, with the pair’s intense pace drawing them comfortably clear of the chasing pack, as the leading two competitors of the current generation – both absolutely at the top of their game – put on a superb show for the capacity trackside crowd.
A late-race safety car intervention offered the talented Bucks-born ace a sniff of hope, but Sutton was wise to his attack and held sway to reclaim the title from the man who had clinched the coveted BTCC crown for the first time at the same circuit 12 months previously, and who the NAPA Racing driver described as a ‘true champion’.
Ingram shadowed Sutton all the way to the chequered flag once again in race two – notching up his 79th podium finish in the UK’s premier motor racing series courtesy of the runner-up spoils – before working his way up the order from eighth on the partially-reversed grid in the day’s finale. The 30-year-old pulled off a late dive on Dan Rowbottom into Paddock Hill Bend with three laps to go to snatch fourth place, his brake discs glowing bright red in evidence of just how hard he was pushing.
The result marked his 22nd top five finish from 30 starts in 2023 – testament to Ingram’s outstanding consistency – and contributed to his highest-ever points total in the championship. He also reached the rostrum on no fewer than 17 occasions – five more than during his title-winning campaign – and he has warned Sutton not to get too used to having the #1 on his car next year…
Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:
“We gave it everything we had and a little bit more besides, and I think we can hold our heads high. I love Brands GP – obviously it’s a circuit that has great memories for me from last year – and I felt very relaxed going into the weekend. It was a very different scenario to 12 months earlier – back then, the title had been ours to grab, whereas this time, we knew we needed a bit of luck and a bit of chaos that was out of our control.
“Qualifying on the ‘GP’ layout is always fun because the car really feels alive and you’re hanging it right on the edge out the back of the lap, but we didn’t get the Hyundai completely in the ‘sweet spot’. It felt pretty good, but not quite what we were after, which summarised our season, to be fair – not bad, but not quite good enough.
“The plan for race day was maximum attack. I knew Ash [Sutton] was going to be fairly risk-averse in the first one, whereas I needed to score as many points as possible. We put up a fight and I pushed him as hard as I could. I looked after my tyres and saved some hybrid which enabled us to come back at him over the second half, and I thought we might have a shot at the end, but as soon as you get into the dirty air of the car in front through the back section of the lap, it’s really difficult to attack.
“Ultimately, it wasn’t quite enough, but we threw everything we had at it – I honestly don’t believe I could have asked any more of either myself or the team. Ash has been phenomenal this year – I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before in the BTCC – and the nice thing is that we have a huge amount of respect for each other both on and off-track.
“Overall, races one and two at Brands Hatch reflected the story of our season, where I had a pretty good view of Ash’s bum – and it’s not my favourite view, I have to admit! Considering how dominant NAPA Racing have been, though, to have stayed in the mix every single weekend and clung onto his coat-tails, I think we can be very pleased with our performance.
“You can point your finger at all the ifs, buts and maybes, but the bottom line is that NAPA had a better team, driver and car combination and they did the business, so full credit to them for doing such a fantastic job to win the title. Now, it’s up to us to come back stronger next year and try to reclaim it!”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography