INGRAM SIGNS OFF SEASON WITH POLE POSITION AND PODIUM HAT-TRICK
Tom Ingram proved that his Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters Corolla is more than a match for any of its rivals in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch last weekend (14/15 November), splashing through the spray to pole position and a full house of podium finishes that have left him feeling bullish indeed about his prospects going into 2021.
Ingram has been a contender season-long in the country’s premier motor racing series, but a variety of misfortunes meant he entered the final weekend as an outsider in the chase for the coveted crown, at 34 points adrift of the summit of the standings. Be that as it may, he headed to Brands’ short Indy circuit vowing to push right to the end and have some fun along the way – and he was every bit as good as his word.
In a tense and eventful qualifying session – punctuated by three red flag stoppages for accidents – the Bucks-born ace mastered inclement conditions to secure his fourth career BTCC pole amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists. On a wet track surface, he then went on to lead the opening 12 laps of the curtain-raiser in front of the live ITV4 television cameras, before ultimately having to give best to Dan Cammish and Ash Sutton following energetic wheel-to-wheel duels as the trio sped clear of the chasing pack.
The sun emerged before race two, leaving a drying circuit, but the early laps on slick tyres were still something of an adventure and Ingram was one of five drivers to slide sideways through Paddock Hill Bend for the first time, skating through the gravel and rejoining down in 13th. That served as the catalyst for a stirring recovery charge as the 27-year-old fairly scythed his way back past his adversaries, posting a flurry of fastest laps and pulling off some sensational overtakes to move into second place by lap 13.
He proceeded to practically halve the 8.7-second deficit separating him from leader Sutton by the chequered flag, and then – from 11th on the partially-reversed grid – produced an almost carbon copy performance in race three. In fully wet conditions again, Ingram belied the 54kg of success ballast aboard his Corolla to advance to seventh by the end of lap two and climb to second by mid-distance.
Thereafter, he slashed Rory Butcher’s advantage from six seconds to just 1.5 seconds by the close to seal his 11th rostrum finish of 2020 – the second-highest tally in the field and a personal career-best – and cement his status as the weekend’s top scorer.
Ultimately missing out on the title by only 24 points – having conceded at least 20 at Silverstone due to a puncture and a further six when he was taken out at the last corner at Snetterton – the two-time BTCC Independents’ Champion concluded the campaign with the best average score of the top five based on races finished without any major issues. Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters secured sixth in the final Teams’ table – and leading single-car outfit.
“We said going to Brands Hatch that to be in with a shot, we would need to throw absolutely everything at it and that’s exactly what we did,” reflected Team Principal Christian Dick. “It was maximum attack throughout. To take pole position and then come away with three podium finishes, I really don’t think we could have done very much more. Tom drove superbly in all conditions, and his recovery in race two was particularly special. It was probably the best weekend we’ve had with the Corolla to-date.
“It was the first time we’ve achieved a podium in every race, which is no mean feat in the BTCC with the reversed grid format and ballast to factor into account – not to mention the unpredictable weather that we had to contend with at Brands. I think it’s fair to say we have shouldered more than our fair share of misfortune this year, and we always knew we would need the other guys to have some bad luck too if we were to take the title. Whilst that didn’t happen, we can all hold our heads very high.
“It’s been an absolutely astonishing team effort all season. With such a condensed calendar and a number of back-to-back weekends and tight turnarounds, the work rate has been nothing short of relentless. The whole Speedworks crew have been outstanding, leaving no stone unturned, and I want to pay tribute to each and every one of them.
“Disregarding the penalty at Croft, Tom qualified inside the top three at each of the last five events – with significant weight on-board – and we would have finished the season with six consecutive podiums if it hadn’t been for what happened at Snetterton. We are gaining momentum every time out, and it’s just a shame we don’t have a tenth race weekend as we normally do, because I would really fancy our chances if we did.
“Still, we go into the winter feeling very positive for next year. We’ve shown repeatedly just what the Corolla is capable of now – it’s been the strongest front-wheel drive car in recent weeks, and arguably the strongest car outright. We’ve been consistently in the hunt at every circuit, and have really got on top of what makes it tick. The start of next season truly can’t come soon enough!”
“What a fantastic weekend!” beamed Ingram. “To come away with a podium in every race was amazing – without the little squabble at Snetterton, it would have been six on the bounce. With no direct pressure on us, I felt very relaxed going to Brands – probably the most relaxed I’ve felt all season, in fact, and I really enjoyed every single lap.
“It was incredibly slippery in qualifying – the circuit felt very different to how it had in free practice, and it took quite a while to settle into a rhythm. You only get a narrow window with the wet tyre at its absolute peak performance, especially around such a short lap as Brands Hatch Indy with so much traffic and people going off and bringing out red and yellow flags. We were chasing the set-up for quite a lot of the session, but then my engineer ‘Spenny’ made a couple of inspired calls that transformed the Corolla.
“The conditions were really tricky again in race one, and it seemed like they were changing every lap. We struggled with the front tyres and I didn’t really have an answer for Dan [Cammish] or Ash [Sutton] towards the end, but it was pleasing to get a podium nonetheless.
“I got a really good launch off the line in race two and I knew I had to try to make up as many places as I could, so I gave it a go – it was a case of ‘lick the stamp and send it’ and see what happens. I went to the outside through Paddock Hill Bend, but lost the rear and ended up doing a bit of rallycross! They’re conditions I absolutely love, though, and it was brilliant fun fighting my way through. It took me back to being about six-years-old, when my dad was too tight to buy me wet tyres for my go-kart! It was a similar story in race three – the Corolla felt superb again and we were able to pull off a lot of very satisfying moves.
“There are always ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, aren’t there, but we’ve shown in recent weeks that we’ve got some serious pace in this car. We’ve been right up there in qualifying and have scored at least one top three finish every weekend since Knockhill, but we’ve just lacked a bit of luck, with the puncture at Silverstone, the driveshaft failure at Oulton Park and being taken out at Brands GP, Silverstone and Snetterton.
“We’ve performed so well as a team all season, and the results we’ve achieved over the second half in particular – with five podiums from the last six races – quite frankly speak for themselves. In a championship as ultra-competitive and fiercely-fought as the BTCC, that’s a hell of an achievement and extremely encouraging. It puts us in a very good place heading into the winter now, and we fully intend to carry this momentum forward into next year.”