SCOTTISH SILVERWARE FOR INGRAM AS TOYOTA COROLLA TAMES KNOCKHILL CHALLENGE
Tom Ingram piloted his Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters Corolla to its second podium finish of the 2020 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign at Knockhill last weekend (29/30 August), as the Speedworks Motorsport-run hatchback truly took the fight to the BTCC’s rear-wheel drive brigade.
The short, technically demanding circuit is traditionally regarded as rear-wheel drive territory, but nobody seemed to tell Ingram as he put the Corolla at the top of the timing screens for a while during Saturday’s FP1, before bouncing back from a gearbox oil leak that cost him set-up time in FP2 to lap second-quickest.
With 30kg of success ballast on-board, the Bucks-born ace again leapt to the head of the order in qualifying prior to going on a wild ride across the grass after clipping the kerb on the exit of the chicane. In what was a real ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment, it was only Ingram’s phenomenal car control that kept the Toyota out of the barriers. His earlier benchmark remained unchallenged for some time, but he was ultimately forced to settle for fifth, still well in the mix and a mere two tenths-of-a-second shy of pole position amongst the 25 high-calibre protagonists.
In front of the live ITV2 television cameras the following day, the two-time BTCC Independents’ Champion rose to fourth by the end of the first lap of race one and proceeded to go on the attack, but try as he might, he couldn’t quite unseat Jake Hill in a much lighter car from third place. Practically glued to his rival’s rear bumper, he flashed past the chequered flag less than half-a-second in arrears.
Gaining 12kg of additional weight for race two, Ingram took advantage of a squabble between Hill and Rory Butcher at the start and – by dint of leaving his braking as late as he dared – swept around the outside of both men into turn one. He stayed firmly in the lead battle until he had to turn his attentions to fending off a charging Dan Cammish in his mirrors. Soaking up sustained pressure throughout, his reward for a dogged defence was third position and the honour of best-placed front-wheel drive car.
From ninth on the partially-reversed grid in the finale, with 48kg on-board and two fast-starting rear-wheel drive cars right behind him, the 27-year-old pulled off an audacious manoeuvre on championship leader Colin Turkington through the opening corners, only to concede the spot again a few laps later when he found himself stuck on the outside line at the hairpin.
Thereafter, he was embroiled in a multi-car scrap for seventh and – not for the first time this season – boldly held his ground in a side-by-side duel with race one and two winner, Ash Sutton. Tenth position at the flag maintained Ingram’s commendable record of placing inside the top ten in every race he has finished this year – the only driver other than Turkington to do so – and saw him consolidate sixth spot in the title standings, just 16 points shy of third. Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters occupies the same ranking in the Teams’ table.
“Overall, we left Knockhill feeling pretty happy about everything,” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “Tom was on the pace from the outset, and even with losing almost half of the second practice session to a gearbox oil leak, he was still bang on the money so we felt pretty bullish heading into qualifying and were again right in the ballpark. To line up fifth, with the weight we were carrying and at what is essentially a rear-wheel drive track was, I thought, an excellent effort.
“Tom applied the pressure all the way through race one, but it’s just so difficult to overtake round there and with the championship situation to think about, we decided to bank the points for fourth place, which still kept us well in the hunt.
“Race two was then almost a role-reversal, as Tom found himself having to fend off a lighter car behind, which he did admirably. It’s always satisfying to finish on the podium but to do so after such a determined drive was even more rewarding and well-merited for a stellar performance.
“We knew race three was going to be a much tougher proposition. Once again, the reverse grid draw did us no favours and when you’re in amongst the RWD cars at Knockhill, you’ve really got to keep your wits about you. The action was frenetic and even so much as a single slip could have cost us a handful of places, but Tom kept his composure to bring home another solid points haul that leaves us in good stead moving forward.
“There’s no question that it’s been an intense first half to the season with four events in five weekends, but we have come out of it in very decent shape, for which the entire team deserves considerable kudos. We have scored points in ten of the 12 races to date, and the only times we haven’t scored, it has been through no fault of our own. Now we will go away, regroup and come back even stronger at Thruxton in three weeks’ time!”
“Another weekend where we were there-or-thereabouts throughout,” reflected Ingram. “I really don’t think we could have achieved very much more. It was definitely a big improvement compared to 12 months ago at Knockhill, which is encouraging.
“The Corolla felt really good in qualifying, which is all credit to the team. I knew the time I set early on would not ultimately be good enough, but I was surprised by how long it took for the others to begin to go quicker. It’s always a busy lap at Knockhill, and I didn’t quite manage to link all the sectors together but I was still pleased with fifth – it was the first time all season I’ve felt like we could really push for pole.
“Cammish gifted me a place when he went wide in race one, but then my momentum came to a halt behind Hill. It’s so frustrating at Knockhill – you can have the legs on the car ahead of you, but you just can’t do anything about it. All the other driver needs to do is stick to the inside at the hairpin, which forces you to the outside where you are vulnerable to attack from behind. Jake also had no ballast on-board, which gave him a slight advantage. Had I been able to get past him, perhaps I could have closed the gap to the top two, but I was happy enough to finish fourth.
“That said, I knew it was important to clear Jake quickly in race two, because if we had settled into a rhythm, it would have risked turning into a repeat scenario. The Corolla was superb early on and with a decent-sized gap behind, I was able to go on the attack – it actually felt like we were in the power seat for a while – but then Cammish closed onto the back of me and once you find yourself having to defend, you naturally go slower. I could see Dan was quicker in a number of areas so I was having to drive in my mirrors, and it was good to come away with our second podium of the season.
“It was inevitable that I was going to lose ground at the beginning of race three – even if you get the best possible start, with rear-wheel drive cars right behind you, you’re still going to get mugged. After re-passing Colin [Turkington], I then got my nose up the inside of [Aiden] Moffat coming out of the chicane but he closed the door, which resulted in contact. That left me on the outside on the approach to the hairpin, costing me the position to Colin again.
“With rear-wheel drive cars all around us, we were on a bit of a hiding to nothing after that – the best overtaking opportunity at the track is the final hairpin, but what we gained on the brakes, we would lose and more besides all the way from the exit up to turn one. To hang onto tenth place was probably the best we could have managed and meant we left Knockhill with three very solid results, more good points, another trophy and very little damage. Now we look forward to an altogether different type of challenge at Thruxton – bring it on!”