Tom Ingram performed an extraordinary debut, with a scene-stealing qualifying performance and a brace of top ten finishes forcing the established contenders to sit up and genuinely take note.
Tom Ingram made an extraordinary debut in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Brands Hatch last weekend, with a scene-stealing qualifying performance and a brace of top ten finishes forcing the established contenders to sit up and genuinely take note.
Off the back of clinching three car racing crowns in just five years in supporting Ginetta championships, 2014 sees Ingram deservedly graduate to the immensely popular, ITV4 live-televised BTCC – commonly regarded as the world’s premier and most fiercely-contested tin-top series – with independent outfit Speedworks Motorsport.
Ingram then proceeded to grab all the headlines in qualifying when – in an extremely closely-fought session – he placed his Hughes-backed Toyota Avensis an outstanding sixth on the 30-strong starting grid for race one, beaten only by the series’ five most recent champions and ahead of two further title-winners for good measure. Less than two tenths-of-a-second shy of pole position and ten spots higher up the order than the next-best newcomer, it was a truly remarkable performance for a BTCC rookie.
When the lights went out in the opening encounter to get the new campaign underway, the SKYCIG and Hansford Sensors-supported KX Akademy graduate betrayed no nerves despite the occasion, soon settling into a strong ninth position that he would retain to the chequered flag to tally his first points at the very first time of asking.
Ingram produced a similarly mature and composed drive in race two, keeping his cool when the action got heated, sticking with the leaders throughout and artfully fending off multiple European touring car champion Fabrizio Giovanardi en route to eighth spot and a second consecutive top ten finish. To underline his startling raw pace, he even set a better fastest lap than the winner, defending title-holder Andrew Jordan.
The third and final outing looked set to yield a top ten hat-trick, as the 20-year-old British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar and MSA Academy member hounded Jordan early on, before being tagged by two-time champion Alain Menu and sent spearing into the barriers at high speed.
Although the Avensis sustained considerable damage, thankfully, its driver did not, and Ingram reflects that the unfortunate incident did not take the shine off an otherwise stellar maiden BTCC weekend that left everybody talking about him and during which he had irrefutably made his presence felt.
“I was alternating between waves of excitement, anticipation and nerves as the weekend approached!” he revealed. “It was a good confidence boost to be up there and mixing it inside the top ten in practice, but even so, to achieve what we did in qualifying was a huge surprise – sixth place exceeded our expectations massively. We knew we had good pace, but we never thought we would get as close to pole position as we did.
“My fastest effort wasn’t even a perfect lap – it was pretty scruffy, to be truthful. Looking back at the data, there was definitely room for improvement. Still, to be comfortably the top BTCC rookie and behind just five former champions, I couldn’t complain too much!
“The start of races one and two was a bit like getting beaten up at big school for the first time as the other drivers ‘welcomed’ me into the championship! That said, once the rough-and-tumble of the opening lap was out of the way, the action settled down and I ran with the leaders throughout.
“It was tremendously encouraging to be so close to the front on my debut, and I absolutely loved the whole BTCC experience. We showed we’ve got the speed to be competitive and to battle against the big boys, and we could honestly never have forecast that coming into the weekend. We’ve laid down a marker for the future – and we’re only going to get better from here.”
“What a fantastic weekend!” added Speedworks team principal Christian Dick. “I have had people from right the way down the pit-lane coming up to tell me how well Tom drove. His qualifying pace blew everybody away – that really raised some eyebrows and embarrassed some of the more established drivers – and his racecraft was just as impressive. To come away with two top ten finishes is just mega. I’m made up.”