INGRAM REIGNITES TITLE CHALLENGE WITH VICTORY AT CROFT
Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters’ Tom Ingram went from despondent to delighted in the latest rounds of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Croft, adding a third win of the campaign to his tally and reigniting his title challenge.
Ingram headed to Croft sitting fourth in the pursuit of the biggest prize in UK motorsport, 42 points adrift of the championship lead following a puncture that had cost him victory two weeks earlier at Silverstone. An exhaust problem might have hampered his set-up time in opening free practice in North Yorkshire, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters star did not let that hold him back in a thrilling wet/dry qualifying session.
Excelling as ever in the tricky mixed conditions, Ingram featured up at the sharp end throughout in the high-calibre, 26-strong field and produced a scintillating lap behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla to vault to the top of the timesheets and secure his fourth career BTCC pole position by more than a quarter-of-a-second – or so it seemed. Unfortunately, there was to be a late sting in the tail, as a wishbone failure meant the car subsequently fell foul of post-session ride height checks, demoting him to the tail-end of the grid for race one.
Despite carrying 42kg of success ballast, the Bucks-born ace went on a charge, matching the leaders for pace to prove what might have been. Setting his own personal fastest lap – including an outright best middle sector – on the final tour, he was comfortably the biggest mover of the race as he grittily salvaged three points for 13th place.
Ballast-free for race two – his 200th BTCC start – Ingram found himself edged onto the grass at lights-out but kept his foot planted and navigated his way safely through a dramatic opening lap to advance to eighth. Headlights ablaze, he proceeded to pull off a series of brave passes to rise to fourth, narrowing a six-second gap to the leader at mid-distance to barely a second at the chequered flag as he circulated consistently fastest amongst the front-runners.
From third on the partially-reversed grid in race three, the two-time BTCC Independents’ Champion then put on a superb show for the live ITV4 television cameras. After snatching second from Dan Cammish away from the line, a supremely committed move through the Jim Clark Esses on cold tyres allowed him to relieve Tom Chilton of the lead.
Immediately establishing a buffer back to the chasing pack, Ingram was more than three seconds ahead when the safety car was summoned on lap three to deal with an accident further down the order. Once the action resumed, a tyre vibration meant he was unable to open up the same kind of advantage again, and he spent the final few laps fending off a resurgent Cammish, with the margin between the pair dipping as low as three tenths-of-a-second. Boldly holding his nerve, the win marked the 27-year-old’s 16th career success, drawing him level with 1992 Champion Tim Harvey in the BTCC annals.
The highest-scoring title contender over the weekend, Ingram’s determination sees him head next to Snetterton in a fortnight’s time (24/25 October) with a reduced deficit of just 29 points to the summit of the standings in Britain’s premier motor racing series – the closest he has been since Brands Hatch back towards the beginning of the campaign. Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters has strengthened its grip on sixth spot in the Teams’ classification – and best-placed single-car entry.
“What a rollercoaster of a weekend – that felt like the third comeback we’ve had to pull off recently,” said Team Principal Christian Dick. “To emerge as the top-scoring championship protagonist after starting race one practically last on the grid is a huge result.
“It was a real kick in the teeth to lose pole position due to a component failure, but it was nobody’s fault and we just had to take it on the chin and concentrate on fighting back. We knew we had the pace in the car, and our plan was to get back to the front by the end of race day, which we executed perfectly.
“There’s a lot of cause for optimism inside the camp going to Snetterton. It’s a track that definitely suits our car, as we showed last year with the Corolla’s first pole and we’re in a good place – close to the top of the standings, but a little lighter than the other guys and with less pressure on our shoulders. The weather is likely to get even more unpredictable between now and the end of the season, but we showed at Croft that we have a very quick car come rain, shine and everything in-between. I’m really excited.”
“Well, that wasn’t the day we expected – from starting at the rear of the grid in race one to finishing with a win,” buzzed Ingram. “I have to say, the Corolla felt brilliant in qualifying – probably the best touring car I’ve ever driven in the wet. When I got out of it afterwards, my engineer asked me, ‘what would you change?’ and I replied, ‘absolutely nothing’. It’s very rare to have a car that feels that good. It was obviously hugely frustrating to subsequently lose pole position, but there’s no arguing ride height failure, unfortunately.
“Going into race one, I knew I had a fast car, but I was also aware we were carrying quite a chunk of ballast so it was going to be difficult to make huge progress. We managed to stay out of trouble and get some points on the board, and I was pretty happy with that.
“Race two then rescued our weekend. It’s amazing how responsive the car suddenly becomes when you take the weight out – the Corolla just came alive! We were starting right in the danger zone in the middle of the pack and it was a busy first lap, but once we got beyond that, it was a case of getting my head down and pressing on to try and pick off as many people as I could. Fourth place was a really good points haul – particularly with several of our main rivals hitting trouble – and for once, we also benefitted from a decent reversed grid draw.
“That was our opportunity, and I made sure I grabbed it. The opening few laps were always going to be critical – that’s when I really enjoy the car dancing around underneath me, which is prime time to attack – and I knew I could potentially get Dan [Cammish] off the line and that we had the legs on Chilton.
“We were in a very comfortable position until the safety car came out but after the re-start, I could feel a massive vibration from the front-right tyre – I was mindful every time I pressed the brake pedal, stepped on the throttle or turned the wheel that it could be Silverstone all over again. I was constantly waiting for the tyre to let go and counting down each lap, literally corner by corner as I could see Dan was coming. I was incredibly relieved when the chequered flag emerged…
“There’s no question that without all the problems we’ve had this season, we could be leading the championship right now, but as Croft demonstrated, the BTCC has a habit of throwing up surprises and I’m sure there are some more twists and turns still to come. This is far from over yet, and we will keep on fighting right the way to the end.”