- Reigning BTCC champion rides the rollercoaster for rostrum result in Scotland
- Race one heartbreak for Bucks-born ace after taking the chequered flag first
- EXCELR8 star encouraged by upturn in performance as title chase intensifies
The tight-and-twisty Scottish circuit has often been a happy hunting ground for Ingram, and he maintained that form by lapping second-quickest on a sodden track in free practice in the UK’s premier motor racing series.
In the two-part qualifying session, the talented Bucks-born ace then put his Hyundai i30N fifth on the grid for the curtain-raising contest, despite leaving more than two tenths-of-a-second on the table compared to his theoretical best in the wet-but-drying session – almost the same gap that ultimately separated him from pole position.
In contrast to Saturday, dry weather greeted competitors on Sunday morning – but the skies remained threatening. Relishing the challenge, in front of the live ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd in race one, Ingram opportunistically relieved local hero Rory Butcher of fourth at the end of the opening tour.
Rain started to fall on lap six, and on the increasingly greasy surface, the Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 star began reeling the top three in at a rate of knots. He was the first of the leading quintet to dive into the pits to switch over to wet rubber, and it would prove to be an inspired call. After rejoining 11th, he took advantage as others either pitted themselves or skated off the road on slicks. By lap 18, he was at the front of the field – and there he would stay.
The result propelled Ingram to the top of the title table for the first time in 2023, but there was to be a late sting in the tail, with his scene-stealing performance coming to nothing when his car failed the post-race ride-height checks – a legacy of the tyre change. As he too became a victim of the changing conditions, his first non-score of the year saw a four-point championship lead turn swiftly into an 18-point deficit.
Worse still, it meant he had to begin the second race of the weekend on a now dry circuit from virtually the back of the 27-car grid. Two-time BTCC champion John Cleland predicted an ‘astonishing drive’ from the defending title-holder, and despite having to contend with the lowest hybrid deployment in the field, that was precisely what Ingram delivered. Matching the leaders for pace in evidence of what might have been, he carved through the order to a tenth-place finish, less than five seconds adrift of fourth.
The rain returned with a vengeance for the weekend’s finale, prompting a safety car start. Notwithstanding the difficulty of overtaking due to the volume of standing water off-line, the 29-year-old pulled off a number of audacious passes to work his way up to fourth, before team-mate Ronan Pearson graciously allowed him by on the last lap to take the bottom step on the podium.
His dogged display of damage limitation enabled Ingram to retain second spot in the standings with nine races left to run this season. Now 37 points shy of the summit, he is fully focussed on fighting back next time out at Donington Park on 26/27 August.
Tom Ingram, Driver, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8, said:
“I love Knockhill. I’ve been going there for however many years, and just when you think it’s thrown up every possible scenario, it manages to spring another surprise! Qualifying was a real rollercoaster ride. It was the kind of session that comes with a huge amount of jeopardy, where the smallest mistake can mean game over, so it was all about managing that risk and whilst I would obviously have liked to be further up the grid, given how sketchy it was, I was happy to be somewhere towards the sharp end.
“When the rain came in race one, my engineer, Spence, came over the radio saying, ‘do you want to pit?’ It’s so hard in those conditions, with half of the circuit wet but the other half still pretty dry, and you almost need to be in two places at once – in the garage to see it and on the track to feel it. You’re also conscious that while you’re racing the drivers around you, that could be to the detriment of the overall result if you all get it wrong and others lower down the order get it right.
“The higher up the field you are, the more you have to lose, but you have to take a bit of a step back and consider the bigger picture. I told Spence to make the call and he said, ‘box this lap’, which turned out to be the right move.
“Losing the win after that was hard to take. The slick tyre and the wet tyre are a slightly different circumference to each other, so when you change from slicks to wets during the race, the car’s ride-height drops. The rules are the rules and there was no blame attached, but we haemorrhaged a lot of points so our focus then shifted to race three and recovering whatever we could.
“Due to the nature of the circuit, it’s notoriously difficult to overtake and make progress at Knockhill – particularly in mixed conditions – and we went into race two starting practically in Dunfermline! I think we did a good job to come through to tenth, which brought us back into contention.
“The conditions were monsoon-like in the last race, with so much standing water. I hated taking the podium away from Ronan at his home track – I felt like I’d kicked a puppy. He did an amazing job over the weekend and will definitely be achieving podiums and victories in the future, but at this stage of the season and with the championship situation what it currently is, we need to make sure we score as highly as possible.
“Despite the disappointment of losing the win in race one, I think we did a good job to claw back some points over the course of the day, and on another encouraging note, we seem to have found some more pace from the car too, so now we need to keep that development going into the final three weekends.”
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography