Tom Ingram celebrates breakthrough podium
Tom Ingram’s memorable duel with Jason Plato at Rockingham on Sunday yielded the youngster’s breakthrough podium finish in the BTCC.
Last year’s top rookie had already equalled his career best finish with a fifth place earlier in the day, before he went on to produce the performance of his life, which left Plato hailing him a ‘world-class driver and future Champion’.
Ingram travelled to Rockingham – a circuit he loves and one around which he has invariably shone – and immediately laid down a marker by lapping quickest in the opening practice session. The talented Bucks ace proved that was no flash in the pan by backing it up with the second-best time in FP2 – a scant nine thousandths-of-a-second adrift of 2013 BTCC Champion Andrew Jordan.
Maintaining his stellar form, Ingram topped the timesheets for a while during qualifying too, featuring up at the sharp end throughout behind the wheel of his Speedworks Motorsport-prepared Toyota Avensis. He ultimately wound up an excellent fourth amongst the 30 high-calibre contenders – a career best – although ever the perfectionist, he admitted to kicking himself for a minor error that he reckoned had cost him a front row slot.
He battled back brilliantly after a poor getaway in race one to finish fifth and he then secured tenth in the second bout, having started 13th on the grid.
More significantly, the result earned the Hansford Sensors and RHA-supported MSA Academy member his maiden BTCC pole position for race three, ahead of some of the very best touring car protagonists on the planet.
If ever he needed to make a bright start, this was assuredly it – and Ingram absolutely nailed it. Pursued by Jason Plato, Turkington and Neal – multiple champions all – he raced under intense and unrelenting pressure, successfully handling a mid-race safety car period into the bargain. On three separate occasions, Plato managed to sneak alongside, and each time, his 22-year-old adversary fought back.
The third of those moves came at Gracelands – not a conventional overtaking spot – as Ingram bravely went doorhandle-to-doorhandle at high-speed with the BTCC’s record-man to reclaim the lead, causing the packed main grandstand to erupt. Although Plato finally found a way past for good on lap 14, the three-time Ginetta Champion and erstwhile British Karting Champion refused to let him get away and expertly staved off Turkington to the flag to seal the runner-up spoils, sweeping enthusiastically across the line to massive cheers from his team and the crowd.
As he climbed out of his car afterwards, it was clear what the moment meant to him.
“This is by far the highlight of my career to-date – something I’ve dreamed about for many years, and today that dream came true,” he enthused. “The BTCC is what I’ve always wanted to do and to finish on the podium in the toughest touring car championship in the world is a lifetime ambition fulfilled.
“When you want something that bad, you will do whatever it takes to fight for it and I gave it everything I had. I don’t think I made a single mistake, and it was hard, fair and clean the whole way through as you would expect when you are racing with a driver of Jason’s calibre – to achieve this result following such an amazing battle with ‘Mr. BTCC’ himself just makes it even more special and rewarding. I honestly don’t know how I held him off for as many laps as I did.
“The whole team has put in such an unbelievable effort to get to the stage where we can go directly up against the big boys, and Christian and Amy [Dick – team owners] showed a lot of faith in me last winter when we were struggling to put the budget together and things looked pretty bleak.
“I spent the entire slowing-down lap in tears – it was such an emotional moment and almost surreal. This podium is for everyone that has helped me along the way, and now we’ve proved we deserve to be here and that we really mean business, we’re already targeting our first win…”
“What a weekend!” enthused team principal Christian Dick, as Speedworks advanced to eighth in the Teams’ standings and equal-fourth in the Independents’ Trophy, with 19 points finishes to its credit from 24 starts – 16 of them inside the top ten. “It’s been an emotional one for everybody involved, and it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
“This podium has been a long time coming, and I really can’t put into words the sheer amount of effort and hard work that has gone in from all the guys to get us to this position. The pressure on our shoulders to convert our speed into this kind of result has been immense, and it’s incredible to have shifted the monkey from our back. I really hope this is the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for to open up the floodgates.
“As for race three, what can I say? Jason Plato is the best in the business, and Tom kept him behind for more than two-thirds of the distance, matching him blow-for-blow. He put up one hell of a fight and repeatedly went wheel-to-wheel with a two-time champion – and even after Jason did finally get past, he stuck with him. It was, quite simply, a stunning performance – I really can’t speak highly enough of Tom and all the lads inside this team.
“The most encouraging aspect of all is that this result wasn’t handed to us on a plate – we earned the podium on merit. Yes, we benefitted from the reversed grid, as others have done this season, but Tom still had to take on three BTCC champions and he saw off Colin and Matt and was only narrowly beaten by Jason. Now we need to make sure we take this momentum forward…”