Ingram lays down early marker as former champion doubles up at Donington

  • 2022 BTCC champion begins quest to reclaim crown in impeccable fashion
  • Team Bristol Street Motors star moves up to 12th on all-time winners list
  • Hyundai i30N demonstrates its speed come rain and shine in season-opener

Tom Ingram produced a superb performance to get his British Touring Car Championship title tilt underway in commanding fashion at Donington Park last weekend (27-28 April), with a dominant double victory earning him his highest-ever score and a nine-point advantage at the summit of the standings.

Ingram has been unequivocal in recent weeks that he has one aim and one aim only this year. He is firmly focussed on reclaiming the coveted BTCC crown – the biggest prize in British motorsport – that he previously clinched in 2022. Around Donington’s 1.98-mile ‘National’ layout, he launched that quest in spectacular style.

After setting the pace in free practice behind the wheel of his Hyundai i30N, the Team Bristol Street Motors star maintained that form throughout the new three-part qualifying session, in challenging mixed conditions that caught out a number of fancied contenders. Incredibly, Q2 marked the only time all day that he did not top the order – and even then, he missed out by a mere 0.079 seconds, prior to snatching a seventh career pole position in the inaugural ‘Quick Six’ shootout.

The changeable and unpredictable weather continued into race day, with an overnight deluge significantly delaying the schedule, but when the action belatedly got going, Ingram was flawless once again. Following a textbook launch in the opener, the talented Bucks-born ace managed an extended safety car period for accident-induced barrier repairs before pulling inexorably away from his pursuers, taking the chequered flag almost 2.5 seconds clear at the end of a real statement drive.

The result marked the 80th BTCC podium finish for the driver who carries the number 80 on his car, with fastest lap – to the tune of more than three tenths-of-a-second – ensuring a perfect score. In front of the live ITV television cameras and an enthusiastic trackside crowd, he subsequently repeated the feat in dry conditions in race two – although this time, he had to work a little harder.

With just one lap of hybrid deployment available to him – less than anybody else, by dint of his earlier triumph – Ingram knew he was facing a much tougher task, and to further complicate matters, he was powerless to prevent Jake Hill’s fast-starting rear wheel-drive BMW from leapfrogging him into Turn One when the lights went out.

Undeterred, the 30-year-old settled into a tight tussle for supremacy with Hill and Ash Sutton, as the past two seasons’ top three protagonists once more proved themselves to be the class of the field, with little to choose between them. After resolutely fending off an attack from Sutton, Ingram spied his opportunity when Hill drifted wide exiting Redgate Corner on lap 14, requiring no second invitation to pounce on his prey and completing the move heading down the Craner Curves.

His 29th career victory elevated him to 12th on the all-time winners list in the UK’s premier motor racing series, and the former BTCC champion rounded off his weekend’s work with a fine fourth-place finish in the day’s finale, from ninth on the partially-reversed grid and with just a single lap of hybrid again – on paper, a sizeable disadvantage when starting mid-pack.

Defying predictions, Ingram immediately set about fighting his way forward in his milestone 300th race. Courtesy of another fastest lap – a whisker shy of a new Donington Park record – he began the final tour only eight tenths-of-a-second adrift of the lead, very nearly unseating Sutton from third as he saved his lone hybrid shot for a late challenge.

His rival was wise to the move, but the result nonetheless cemented the EXCELR8 Motorsport ace’s highest-ever single-weekend score in the BTCC. He will duly travel to Brands Hatch’s short ‘Indy’ circuit on 11-12 May holding a nine-point margin at the top of the title table – and eager to reinforce his championship-chasing credentials.

Tom Ingram, Driver, Team Bristol Street Motors, said:

“I’m over-the-moon – what a perfect weekend! We really couldn’t have asked for any more. It’s been a winter of hard work to try to improve the car – Ash [Sutton] and the NAPA lads showed us last year that we’ve all got to up our game, and everyone in the team has done a hell of a job to achieve that. We’ve left absolutely no stone unturned, I felt really good going to Donington – very confident and excited – and we came out fighting and started exactly as we mean to go on.

“The first qualifying session of the season is always pretty crazy and chaotic, and this year was no exception. We almost fell at the first hurdle in Q1. It was getting wetter and we were on slicks when we should have been on wets, and when we were finally on the right tyres, I only got across the line to start a lap with about 30 seconds left on the clock. In the end, thankfully, we got the job done.

“Race one was a case of two extremes – there were dry patches down the back straight, but where it was wet, it was still very wet with a fair bit of standing water. I’ve got to say, in conditions like that, I was quite happy that the safety car was out for so long because every lap was a new adventure – no corner or braking-point was ever the same twice!

“I was mindful of trying to save some tyres and not throw it off the road, especially with such a short turnaround before race two, but everything felt pretty comfortable and it was quite easy to manage the gap. If I’d needed to increase the pace, I felt like I could have done – we were in a really nice window and the result was obviously spot-on.

“The car felt ace again in race two, and when Jake [Hill] made a slight mistake, I didn’t have to think twice and used my hybrid at precisely the right time. When you’ve only got an allocation of one lap, it’s so tricky to know when to deploy it to make the biggest difference. Ahead of the race, we had discussed various potential scenarios and permutations, but fundamentally, it has to be on the spur of the moment sometimes and that to me was the most opportune time.

“After that, I wanted to make sure we banked some solid points in race three, which we obviously did and we very nearly came away with another podium. That was fantastic, but what I’m most excited about is the speed of the car now – it’s feeling stupendously good. I’ve got such an incredible bunch of guys on my side of the garage and we’re working phenomenally well as a team towards one common goal – and so far, we’re reaping the rewards.”

Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography