Impressive Ingram edges ever-closer to Ginetta title glory with 11th podium of 2010 Tom Ingram has taken another step closer towards clinching his maiden car racing crown in only his second season out of karts, with a strong weekend at Donington...
Impressive Ingram edges ever-closer to Ginetta title glory with 11th podium of 2010
Tom Ingram has taken another step closer towards clinching his maiden car racing crown in only his second season out of karts, with a strong weekend at Donington Park that yielded his 11th Ginetta Junior Championship podium finish of the 2010 campaign - meaning he will head to the Brands Hatch finale in pole position to lift the coveted laurels.
Tom arrived at the revised Leicestershire circuit with a healthy points buffer over his two challengers for glory, Louise Richardson and Jake Hill - established off the back of an incredible run of four consecutive clean sweeps of pole position, race victory and fastest lap in the previous two meetings in the ITV-televised and British Touring Car Championship (BTCC)- supporting closed-top sportscar series around the world-famous Silverstone and Knockhill in Scotland. Needless to say, he was feeling optimistic about his chances.
"There's always the pressure of needing to do well, but at the same time I knew I didn't necessarily have to win," reflected the highly-rated young High Wycombe star, alluding to his enviable position as the hunted rather than hunter. "I was just aiming to score some good, solid points and come away with a decent championship lead still. Of course I wanted to keep my winning run going, but I knew that would be hard, especially as I don't like Donington and have never gelled with the track - I've never really seemed able to hook it up round there."
Lapping very much at the sharp end of proceedings right from the 'off' and solidly inside the top three all throughout Friday practice - encouraging indeed given that unlike Hill and Richardson, Tom had not been able test at Donington the week beforehand - a few misguided set-up changes as the weather turned on Saturday morning briefly led the 17-year-old down a dead end, but he would rebound in spectacular style in qualifying, when he truly 'hooked it up'.
"I wasn't too worried in Saturday practice, because we were still only half a second off the fastest time even despite all of that," he mused. "I knew as soon as we got the car sorted, we would be bang on the pace again. The track was really greasy in qualifying - conditions I absolutely love - and my mechanic Neil just said 'go out there and do it', so I did! We were lightning-quick, half a second up on anybody else. I've got good car control, and that seemed to give me the edge over all the others in those conditions. I don't get scared if I have an understeer moment or if the back end gets away from me - I just drive through it."
His third double pole in as many outings, the fact that Hill and Richardson languished some way further down the order was merely the cherry on top, though Tom admitted he was 'a bit disappointed' that the forecast downpour for race day never arrived, reasoning that 'I would have been happier racing in the rain than in the dry because I knew we had an advantage in the wet'. And then the opening encounter would not exactly be his most straightforward of the campaign thus far...
"I got off to a really good start and built up a good lead," recounted the Hillspeed ace. "Then, coming down the Craner Curves for the first time I saw the safety car boards come out, which bunched everyone up again! That was annoying, but it's racing. I got a really good jump at the re-start, too, but Jake in second was able to stay with me. He came up the inside heading towards Macleans, and I didn't fight him too hard, because I didn't want to risk ending up with a DNF and no points.
"I then just latched onto his rear bumper and started following him round, until coming out of Coppice on lap five I suddenly lost all drive from the engine. The car almost came to a complete stop and I thought 'this is it' - I could see my championship lead disappearing before my eyes - and although it seemed to mysteriously cure itself and get going again, by then I had dropped down to ninth.
"After that, I just had to try to battle my way back from there and regain as many places as I could. It was nice to have the pace to be able to pick my way through the way I did, and I had a bit of fun passing people as I came back to fourth in the end. The frustrating thing was, with just another half-a-lap, I could definitely have re-taken second..."
A superb job of damage limitation in the circumstances, the way in which Tom made short work indeed of scything past his adversaries was impressive to behold - and in race two later on in the day, he would similarly be made to work hard for his eventual well-deserved reward.
"I got another strong start and built up a bit of a gap early on, but I could see Jake was coming through and it was obvious he was pretty quick," recalled the Conway House, Teng Tools and NP Aerospace-backed hotshot. "I tried to put some good laps in, but once he got into second I just couldn't shake him off. He got past for the lead, but I then stayed with him and as I was pushing him along I started to think I was actually faster than him.
"My team-mate Seb was catching us up in third, so I just kept trying to put Jake under pressure, but then Seb made a move up the inside of me into Redgate, which dropped me down to fourth. I managed to work my way back into second again, and then the safety car came out which closed the whole pack up.
"We had only two laps left after the re-start, and I stayed right with Jake as we dropped the others pretty quickly - but I didn't have the last little bit of pace I needed to make a move. He was missing some apexes and running wide through a few corners, but nothing to give me a good enough run to try to get past. Obviously I would have liked to have won, but I was still really pleased with second in the end, because it was more decent, solid points towards the championship."
Having had the speed to triumph on both occasions - only for ill-fortune to intervene in the first and discretion proving the better part of valour in the second, as Tom keeps the title foremost in his mind - the ex-British Karting Champion's 11th podium of the year from just 18 races means he will travel to Brands Hatch in early October with a 42-point margin over Hill, and with Richardson now to all intents and purposes out-of-the-reckoning. A self-confessed fan of the legendary Kent circuit, he is palpably revved up to finish the job off.
"I'm feeling really confident heading to Brands," underlined the former Wycombe and Marlow Sports Personality of the Year in conclusion. "We're just going to approach it the same way we did Donington. It's Jake's home track, but around the GP circuit there earlier this year I was only about two hundredths of a second off him in the wet, so I'm really looking forward to the challenge. Again, I don't need to win; I just need to stay consistent and rack up a couple of decent finishes, and hopefully that will be enough for us to come away with a big trophy at the end of it."