Ingram proves title credentials first time out in big boys’ battle

Tom Ingram demonstrated that off the back of consecutive title triumphs in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2010 and Ginetta G50 Cup in 2011, he is primed to do battle for a hat-trick of crowns in 2012, after a front-running performance weekend-long resulted in a podium finish on his G55 class debut in the Michelin Ginetta GT Supercup at Brands Hatch.

Having tied up a late deal to join the headlining G55 class with JHR Developments only a week before the Brands curtain-raiser, Tom knew he would not be as well-prepared for the resumption of hostilities as many of his rivals – but right from the outset, he laid down an instant marker by lapping consistently inside the top three in Friday’s two practice sessions on old tyres. Indeed, until some of his adversaries bolted on new rubber in the afternoon, the talented young High Wycombe speed demon was fastest of all – by more than half-a-second.

“I never expected to be amongst the quickest straightway,” he modestly confessed. “We hadn’t been able to test at all prior to the weekend, so we knew we were going to be on the back foot a little bit in relation to those guys who had been out on-track for a couple of months already. I was just aiming to put some solid points on the board, and I said that if I could get onto the podium, I would be over-the-moon.

“The G55 is faster than the G50, its superior aerodynamics generate more grip, its brakes are sharper and it’s more physical to drive. I really enjoyed it, and after I had got used to it more, it was just a case of building up my confidence. With the aero, I was expecting it to be absolutely glued to the road, but it does still dance around a little bit, which makes it a lot of fun.”

On new tyres for the first time, Tom targeted a top three spot in Saturday’s qualifying session, but in much cooler temperatures compared to the previous day, he discovered that his car’s set-up was no longer as well-adapted to the track conditions. After finding himself baulked on his early efforts, the 18-year-old set a ‘banker’ lap before retreating to the pits and re-emerging with just over three minutes to go.

“The circuit was much clearer by then, but I knew I would only have time left for two ‘flying’ laps,” he explained, “so the pressure was on. Fortunately, everything hooked up really well. I had a little bit of a ‘moment’ going through Surtees, but I managed to gather it all up again and it was good enough to put me third on the grid, less than three hundredths of a second away from pole. For my first time in the car on new tyres, I was really pleased with that – and we knew there was still more time to be found.

“With not having been able to try any practice starts beforehand, I struggled a little to get away from the line in race one, but I held my position and had a look at taking second place into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time, only to be squeezed towards the pit wall. 

“The driver ahead of me then received a jump-start penalty, which moved me up a spot, and after that I briefly reduced the gap to the leader who had been able to get away at the start. We were lapping at quite a similar pace, though, and I was always conscious of not taking too much life out of my tyres given that there were two longer races still to go – so after a little while, I just concentrated on keeping it all smooth and maintaining P2. 

“With about half the race remaining, the driver behind closed right onto my tail and began putting me under quite a lot of pressure, but there aren’t really many overtaking opportunities around Brands Hatch’s Indy layout, so I knew that as long as I didn’t make a mistake, I should be ok. For my first race in the car, to finish second was absolutely brilliant – and it proved that we’ve got the pace to feature right up at the front this year.”

The BRDC Rising Star would ably illustrate that again in race two – at least for the first four laps, before it all ended in tears and the Paddock Hill Bend gravel trap when a rival boldly attempted to wrest third place away from him on the outside line, forcing Tom over the kerb and, on cold tyres, into a spin and out of the race.  “It was a risky move from him, I thought, and it left me with nowhere to go on the exit of the corner,” the MSA Academy member recounted. “With the room he gave me, it was inevitable that one or both of us was going to end up going off, and the most upsetting part of it was the substantial amount of damage it caused to the car.

“The team worked their fingers to the bone to get it repaired again in time for the final race; it was amazing to see it come back on a recovery truck and be turned around in less than a handful of hours – an absolutely unbelievable effort from all the JHR boys. They did a fantastic job, and to see that many people all pulling together to get the car right was actually quite emotional. Even sponsors were getting their hands dirty – it was just remarkable.” Unfortunately, brake issues forced a pit-lane start for race three – “Every time I pressed the pedal, it just went straight to the floor, and heading towards Paddock Hill Bend at 120mph, that doesn’t really fill you with too much confidence,” Tom quipped – and things did not greatly improve from thereon in.

“I took it easy over the first few laps just to see how the car was,” the former British Karting Champion recalled. “It was making a few strange noises and suffering from understeer going into corners, and really bad oversteer coming out. Before long, it was really starting to move about and behaving very oddly, which we subsequently discovered was due to a problem with the differential. 

“I got up into sixth place, but then coming out of Clearways for the final time, the diff didn’t fancy playing ball anymore and spun me round – it was one of those really embarrassing moments when you realise you’ve just done that in front of everybody! As I was facing the wrong way, I could see another car heading straight towards me, and it was a massive relief when there was no impact and I was able to carry on to the finish line.”

Making a point of thanking the generous support once again of Matthew and Leigh-Anne Kirby, new-for-2012 sponsors Hansford Sensors and Race-Keeper and the continued backing of One Dry Wash – which he joked came in useful indeed for cleaning the car after race two – Tom concluded that despite its difficulties, overall the weekend had been an overwhelmingly positive one, and stressed that the goal for Donington Park next time out will be to claw back some points and move up from the fourth position he currently occupies in the standings.

“Obviously there were ups-and-downs, but I learned a lot and to be working with such a good team who are clearly so passionate about what they do is just fantastic,” he enthused. “After Brands, I would say there are probably four drivers in contention for the title this year, so the key will be to keep on picking up the points – and then we’ll see where it goes from there.”

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