Ingram keeps up the pressure in chase for the crown with podium charge at Croft

  • Defending champion’s commendable consistency pays dividends in Yorkshire
  • Bucks-born ace remains just six points shy of summit of BTCC standings
  • EXCELR8 Motorsport star aiming to ‘find a little bit more speed before Knockhill’

Tom Ingram is ‘still there or thereabouts’ in his quest to secure a second consecutive British Touring Car Championship crown, after pegging season-long pace-setter Ash Sutton with a podium performance at Croft last weekend (29/30 July) to keep his arch-rival well within reach in the title table.

The reigning BTCC champion travelled to Croft aiming to hit the ground running as the second half of the 2023 campaign kicked into gear, and he duly topped the timesheets during free practice amongst the 26 high-calibre protagonists in the UK’s premier motor racing series.

An uncharacteristic spin in qualifying after posting a ‘purple’ first sector, allied to a subsequent lack of grip restricted Ingram to seventh on the starting grid, albeit barely a third-of-a-second shy of pole position – and in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd the following day, he went immediately on the attack.

In the curtain-raising contest, the talented Bucks-born ace swiftly displaced four-time champion Colin Turkington for sixth before proceeding to hassle Jake Hill all the way to the chequered flag, despite having the second-lowest hybrid deployment in the field by dint of his championship standing.

Ingram made similarly short work of despatching Hill and Josh Cook on the opening tour in race two, and then set about hounding Dan Rowbottom ahead, as his Hyundai i30N danced spiritedly around the demanding North Yorkshire circuit. Try as he might – and despite setting the second-fastest lap – he could not quite find a way past, but a fourth-place finish nonetheless represented another very solid clutch of points.

It also earned the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star third on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale – and ever the opportunist, he punished a failed attempt by Cook to take the lead on the outside of Tower Bend on lap one by sneaking through to second through the high-speed Jim Clark Esses.

That left Ingram behind only ‘King of Croft’ Turkington – a man with no fewer than 13 prior wins to his name at the track. After initially trying to unseat the BMW driver, he subsequently elected to settle for the runner-up spoils, boosted by the knowledge that Sutton would not score due to picking up damage. The result means the 29-year-old remains just six points shy of the championship lead heading north of the border next to Knockhill in Scotland – scene of two of his 26 career BTCC victories to-date – on 12/13 August.

Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:

“I’ve always loved Croft. It feels very different to everywhere else we go, I think because it’s quite narrow, it’s quite tight, it’s got bumps – it’s almost more like a big go-kart circuit, which is a challenge I enjoy. We were crazy fast when we tested there pre-season, but we couldn’t replicate that form during the race weekend. There was a big difference in only a few months, and we couldn’t figure out why.

“Qualifying was difficult. I had to abort my first run when I had a massive moment that I was convinced was going to result in a huge shunt. I went so far off the circuit at Barcroft, I was nearly back at my hotel! I saw the barrier on the right at least three times and ended up down the escape road. My next effort was a ‘banker’ to make sure I got a lap in, and then I’d just started my third run when the red flags came out. It was a messy session all-in-all, and we didn’t manage to pull everything together.

“On Sunday, we didn’t have the pace to take on the NAPA crew – they were in a class of their own – but we kept plugging away and trying to bank points. I was doing a bit of a rain dance, hoping the weather might spring a surprise which it ultimately didn’t, and I was a bit disappointed after the first two races, if I’m being honest.

“I felt like I was in the power seat against Dan Rowbottom initially in race two, until all of a sudden he began pulling away and I simply had no answer. Even when I deployed hybrid, all I could do was match his lap times. That was frustrating, because I really thought we had a chance in that one.

“It was a pretty beige weekend all-in-all, but the podium in race three was a great way to top it off. I saw on the big screen that Ash [Sutton] had obviously had a bit of an issue, so I was happy enough to finish second behind the ‘King of Croft’ and bag some more strong points. We know that against a rear wheel-drive car, we have to pounce in the opening laps; once the action settles down, it’s difficult to get past.

“It was good to come away with a result in the end after being on the back foot after qualifying. Somehow, we’re still there or thereabouts. We’ve had the most boring season this year, but we’re still in it and fundamentally, I think that proves how important it is to stay consistent in this championship. Now we need to knuckle down and see if we can find a little bit more speed before Knockhill…”

Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography