- Reigning champion digs deep to add to trophy collection in BTCC curtain-raiser
- Bucks-born ace conquers changeable conditions for strong points haul
- EXCELR8 star praises stellar team effort to bounce back from difficult start
Tom Ingram got his quest for consecutive British Touring Car Championship crowns underway with a brace of podium finishes at Donington Park last weekend (22/23 April), overcoming early issues and mastering mixed weather to leave the Leicestershire circuit sitting second in the standings.
Ingram’s title defence got off to an inauspicious start in free practice, as a water leak during the first session cost him vital running time on the freshly-resurfaced track and left him on the back foot. That lack of preparation then told in qualifying, when the reigning champion had to dig deep, hustling his Hyundai i30N in trademark all-out style to secure sixth on the grid for the curtain-raising contest amongst the 27 high-calibre contenders.
The following day dawned wet – just the kind of inclement conditions in which the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star excels. By dint of holding his nerve around the outside of the opening few corners as cars squirmed about on the greasy track surface, he immediately climbed to third in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and capacity trackside crowd, before setting his sights on hunting down Jake Hill and Dan Cammish ahead.
The pace-setting trio swiftly made a break from the chasing pack, and after fending off a late attack from a hard-charging Andrew Watson behind, Ingram darted out of Hill’s slipstream exiting the final chicane for the last time and drew alongside, missing out on the runner-up spoils by less than a tenth-of-a-second in a thrilling photo-finish.
Third place nonetheless represented a strong start to the day, and the talented Bucks-born ace briefly challenged Cammish for the lead early on in race two. As the rain returned, however, those drivers lower down the order who had taken a gamble on wet-weather rubber began scything through the field, and Ingram ceded to the inevitable approaching mid-distance as he pitted to switch tyres.
A quick and efficient service by the EXCELR8 crew enabled him to rejoin the fray in 16th, from where he grittily battled back to a ninth-place finish, snaring a bonus point along the way for setting the race’s fastest lap. In so doing, he not only outscored all bar one of his main rivals, but also hauled himself into contention to benefit from the reversed grid draw.
Duly lining up fourth for the day’s finale, the 29-year-old artfully threaded the needle between Bobby Thompson and Dan Rowbottom at lights-out before snatching second from a fast-starting Colin Turkington into the Old Hairpin for the first time. After initially giving chase to Cammish once again, he subsequently turned his attentions to maintaining his position, as multiple champions Turkington and Ash Sutton as well as Jake Hill loomed ever-larger in his mirrors.
By placing his Hyundai inch-perfectly on the still-damp circuit and judiciously saving much of his hybrid deployment for a late-race defence, Ingram expertly withstood the intense pressure being applied by his adversaries. Showcasing all of all the skill that made him champion in the UK’s premier motor racing series, he held on to seal his second rostrum result of the weekend, and will next travel to Brands Hatch in just under a fortnight’s time (6/7 May) a mere seven points adrift of the top of the table.
Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:
“I’m really pleased with how the weekend went. We didn’t have the ultimate pace, but I think we compensated for that by making good decisions. We were immediately behind after missing pretty much all of FP1; that session tends to be when you check everything is working as it should, but we couldn’t do any of that, which hindered us a bit. Saying that, of course, I’d always rather that kind of thing bite us in practice rather than halfway through the first race.
“Still, it meant we had to do all of our ‘housekeeping’ in FP2 and consequently went into qualifying with less than a handful of flying laps under our belt, which isn’t really enough to be properly prepared. We managed to advance to the top ten shootout, but we didn’t quite get the Hyundai hooked-up as well as we wanted. We were definitely lacking something and there was a lot of head-scratching overnight to try to understand where we were missing out.
“From there, we went into Sunday targeting a ‘pointsy’ day. Anything can happen on the first weekend of the season – everyone is a bit race-rusty, everyone is a bit keen – so the aim was simply to stay out of trouble and get through it in one piece.
“The rain before race one was a bit of a reset for everybody and negated our earlier loss of track time to an extent. There were cars all over the place on the opening lap, and in mixed conditions like that, it’s all about risk management. It’s the classic angel and devil on your shoulder analogy. The devil is saying, ‘go on, send it, go for the gap, it’ll be great’, and the angel is saying, ‘don’t be daft’. I was very mindful that it was just the first race of the day and that some of our main rivals were not having such a good run, so it was important to bank some decent points – that was what we needed.
“Race two was crazy, and it all came down to making the right call at the right time. It was such a tough one because while some parts of the lap were extremely slippery, other parts were still quite dry. When you’re running up at the front, you also obviously have a lot more to lose by rolling the dice, but I think we got the most out of the situation that we could.
“Race three was then a bit like a game of chess in terms of knowing where to place the car and when over the second half, because with drivers like Colin [Turkington], Ash [Sutton] and Jake [Hill] behind, you can’t afford to make a single mistake. Another podium was a nice way to round the weekend off and overall, I think we did a good job. We’ve clearly got some time to find, but we’re in the mix and we’ll work hard, dig deep – and come out fighting again at Brands Hatch!”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography