- Defending champion turns up the wick in BTCC title fight at Oulton Park
- Hyundai star digs deep to come away with brace of rostrum results
- Game on over season’s second half in pursuit of back-to-back crowns
Tom Ingram goes into the British Touring Car Championship’s mid-season break having narrowed his deficit to the summit of the standings to just six points, after fighting his way to a pair of podium finishes courtesy of a characteristically gritty performance at Oulton Park last weekend (17/18 June).
The defending champion in the UK’s premier motorsport series, Ingram was also the qualifying and race lap record-holder at Oulton heading into the fifth outing of the BTCC’s 2023 campaign, and brimful of confidence following a commanding double victory at the circuit last year – the catalyst for his successful title charge.
Picking effortlessly up from where he had left off 12 months earlier, the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star duly topped the timesheets in opening practice amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists, and only missed out on doing the same again in FP2 by the narrow margin of 0.017 seconds.
In the two-part qualifying session, Ingram progressed comfortably through to the top ten shootout in second position, but just when it mattered most, the talented Bucks-born ace found himself unexpectedly struggling for balance, leaving him a frustrated sixth on the starting grid for the curtain-raising contest the next day.
Unbowed, in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd, he was on feisty form from the outset, grabbing a spot to fifth at lights-out and despatching Dan Cammish for fourth with a neat dive into Old Hall corner on lap two, before producing a similar textbook pass to relieve Ricky Collard of third three laps later and swiftly pulling away.
With the top two having established an advantage of almost two-and-a-half seconds, however, from then on, it was a somewhat lonely drive – albeit one that yielded an eighth rostrum visit of the season.
Following another bright start, Ingram briefly challenged arch-rival and championship leader Ash Sutton for second on the first lap of race two. He continued to apply the pressure until having to switch his attentions to his rear-view mirrors in the closing stages as a charging Colin Turkington – with significantly more hybrid ‘boost’ available to him – zeroed in on the back of the Hyundai i30N at a rate of knots.
Placing his car inch-perfectly, the 29-year-old’s defence was watertight as he staved the four-time champion off to the end, before similarly withstanding an attack from Sutton at the start of race three and going on to convert fourth on the partially-reversed grid into the same position at the chequered flag, denied a full house of podium finishes by barely four tenths-of-a-second.
His combined points haul – allied to Sutton’s failure to score in the day’s finale – saw Ingram leave Cheshire having more than halved the gap to the top of the title table, meaning when the second half of the season gets underway at Croft in North Yorkshire on 29/30 July, it will be very much game on.
Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:
“It was a good weekend all-in-all. I love Oulton Park, and I went there planning maximum attack so that we could head into the summer break on a positive note. Throughout practice and the first part of qualifying, we were really on it; the car felt marvellous, doing everything I wanted it to, and after setting an early time in Q1, we were confident enough to then just sit in the pits and save a set of tyres.
“I felt optimistic for Q2, but it just didn’t switch on and we weren’t sure why. Literally the only difference was a new set of tyres, but they never came in. That was obviously annoying, because we knew we had a quick car and while sixth place was far from a disaster, at somewhere like Oulton Park where it’s notoriously difficult to overtake, it was also far from ideal.
“There was a bit of head-scratching and plenty of hard work overnight in an effort to move forwards on race day, and I was fairly pleased to come away with two third places and a fourth. It took a few laps in race one to get shot of Dan [Cammish] and Ricky [Collard], so by the time I got through to third, the gap to the top two was already there. The car still felt strong towards the end and I managed to halve the deficit, but that was as much as I could do without taking any big risks or pushing too hard.
“It was nip-and-tuck with Ash [Sutton] in the early part of race two – it feels like I’ve been staring at his bum all year, which obviously is not what I want to be doing – but later on, Colin [Turkington] was clearly much faster and when he got onto my tail, I had no brakes left and was running out of tyres as well. Then in race three, mindful that Ash wasn’t scoring, I knew I needed to be sensible and bag the points so I chose to settle for fourth behind Adam [Morgan].
“It was frustrating in that it had felt like Oulton could be a really big weekend for us, but still, we were there-or-thereabouts throughout and came away with some very solid points. So far this season, we haven’t been grabbing the headlines with loads of victories, but what we have been doing is consistently putting big scores on the board, which is what’s important if you want to stay in contention in a series like this.
“We’ve been going under the radar a little in that respect, but we’re in a good position as a result. We could do with a bit more, of course, but we’re getting there and performance-wise, it does now feel like we’re closing in…”