Tom Ingram twice threatened the podium and tallied his maiden top ten hat-trick as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship travelled to Knockhill in Scotland – where the talented young High Wycombe ace toasted the finest weekend of his fledgling tin-top career to-date.
A self-confessed fan of the undulating and demanding Fife circuit – where he triumphed at the very first time of asking in Ginetta Juniors four years ago – Ingram’s 2014 trip north of the border did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. With no prior testing opportunity, practice was always going to be of vital importance to refine the set-up of his Hughes-backed, Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Avensis, but engine failure in the opening session meant he missed the next one and effectively went into qualifying blind.
Immediately on the back foot, the setback represented a massive penalty around such a short, tight-and-twisty lap, but the blu and Hansford Sensors-supported KX Akademy graduate wound up a more than respectable 13th amongst the 31 contenders in the ITV4 live-televised championship – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-contested touring car series. That placed him ahead of two former title-winners, and a single tenth-of-a-second adrift of the top ten.
Following some overnight changes to the #80 car, standout rookie Ingram evinced tremendous pace in the opening encounter on Sunday, lapping as fast as the front-runners as he scythed through the order into seventh. Despite receiving a hefty hit from behind that left him with bodywork fouling the wheel arch, he would retain the position to the chequered flag to equal his season best.
Opting to run on Dunlop’s soft-compound rubber in race two, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar and MSA Academy member again unleashed some scintillating raw speed, lapping an impressive third-quickest as he fought his way up to fifth and joined the scrap over the final spot on the podium. As his tyres inevitably faded in the closing stages, he ceded a couple of places to cross the finish line seventh once more – but fortified by the knowledge that he had more than ably underlined his potential.
From fourth on the race three reversed grid, Ingram swiftly advanced to third, embroiled in a breathless four-way tussle for the lead, but halfway through his tyres unexpectedly deteriorated, leaving him powerless to stave off his rivals as he slipped back to an eventual ninth. Still, that did not take the shine off what was irrefutably his most competitive outing to-date and an excellent points haul – and certainly did not conceal the fact that he is getting closer to the sharp end all the time.
“I really enjoy the challenge that Knockhill presents,” reflected the three-time Ginetta Champion and erstwhile British Karting Champion – at just 21, the second-youngest driver in the field. “Controlled aggression is the key to being quick round there – it’s very easy to overdrive the lap if you try too hard. It’s an entertaining circuit and a real rollercoaster ride, and it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm because everything just comes at you so fast.
“We knew we would be in for a struggle in qualifying after missing most of practice, and I was actually very surprised that we managed to line up as near to the front as we did considering the car was still a long way from where we wanted it to be.
“We worked hard and made some set-up changes overnight, though, and that really paid off as we had mega pace in race one. I was hoping we might be able to sneak into the top ten, so I was over-the-moon to finish seventh. There was a lot of action and drama kicking off all around and I really had to get my elbows out at times, but the car just felt amazing and really driveable. The Speedworks guys did a superb job with it and we were able to move forwards through the field really well.
“I tried to make as much early progress as I could in race two, knowing that the performance of the soft tyres would drop off towards the end. I made sure to capitalise upon the initial advantage we had over the drivers on the harder rubber, and to catch and latch onto the battle for the podium was awesome. I was more than happy to finish seventh again, and delighted to have been right up at the front on genuine pace.
“We were really strong to begin with in race three and I felt comfortable and confident in third place, piling the pressure upon the driver in second. I was biding my time and waiting for his tyres to fall away given that he was on the softer compound this time, but inexplicably it was mine that lost grip and I was effectively a sitting duck from there on in. That was a frustrating way to conclude the weekend, as we could have come away with so much more.
“Still, overall it was really encouraging to achieve three top tens for the first time in the BTCC, and fantastic to have been in the fight for the podium in two of the races around a track that we didn’t anticipate would be one of our better ones. It was a sizeable step forward and hopefully we can take another one next time – because ultimately, I’m not going to be completely happy until I’m on the highest step of the rostrum!”