Talented Ingram reflects on making it down to the final few in search for a rising star
It is quite an honour to be selected by one of Britain's most prestigious racing organisations for evaluation for a special scholarship - and to make it down to the final four is proof if ever it were needed that Tom Ingram is one of the very brightest young motorsport stars around.
Each year, the not-for-profit Racing Steps Foundation (RSF) meets to debate the various merits of the country's elite performers, with a view to selecting one or two of them to fund for a season's competition or more. With its stated mission to help to further the careers of talented-but- underfunded competitors, in 2010, the names of a dozen of Britain's top young drivers appeared on the initial short-list - and Tom's was one of them.
"To be nominated for something like Racing Steps is a massive endorsement," enthused the highly-rated High Wycombe hotshot. "It shows people have obviously noticed what I'm doing - and to find out I had reached the short- list was brilliant!"
The first round of assessment involved a series of psychometric tests, an in-depth interview and a session on a simulator, under the observant eye of a certain John Surtees, the only man ever to have been crowned world champion on both two wheels and four and whose presence, Tom quipped, made him 'more nervous than I am when I'm actually racing!'
Although he conceded that he was unsure as to whether he had done enough, the 2010 Ginetta Junior Champion had palpably impressed the panel, for several days later he received a 'phone call informing him that he had made it through to the final four, leaving him 'shocked and really, really pleased'. And then the stakes would be raised even higher...
A fitness test at the Porsche Human Performance Centre at Silverstone to determine each finalist's strength and stamina - something Tom described as 'hard work, but then it was always going to be' - was followed by the most fun yet most stressful part all at the same time, the driving. With each of the finalists sent out in a Formula Renault UK single-seater at Rockingham - prepared by the ultra-successful Fortec outfit - the 17-year-old former British Karting Champion admitted that to begin with, he had to mentally re- train his brain.
"I had to get used to how to drive it, because it's very different from the Ginetta," he explained. "Apart from a handful of laps in an Autosport Young Guns car, I had never done anything in a single-seater before, and to have someone assessing everything you are doing does put a little bit of pressure on.
"To go out in a Formula Renault for the first time in a situation where you are being watched right from the first lap is very difficult - you know you can't push as much as you normally would, because you can't afford to make any mistakes - but ultimately, you've just got to get out there and do it.
"The aerodynamic downforce in particular was a really strange feeling - you can brake a lot later than you expect, and can be really aggressive with the car because it can handle it. It's an unusual sensation to begin with that the quicker you go into a corner the more grip you will have - you can really throw it in and it just sticks. I've never driven a car with that much grip before and it took me half of the day I'd say to really get used to it, but once I did, I really enjoyed driving it!"
Improving progressively by the session, Tom gave an excellent account of himself inside the cockpit, and that the RSF needed an extra couple of days to reach a verdict only went to underline just how tough a decision it was and how high the standard had been.
Whilst sadly narrowly missing out in the final reckoning, the Teng Tools and Mr. Signs-backed speed demon recognised that to have got as far as he did out of the hundreds if not thousands of young drivers in Britain was a superb accomplishment, and arguably the greatest recognition of his potential to-date as he prepares to go onwards and upwards now.
"Even though I didn't get picked in the end, the whole experience was really worthwhile and has helped to make me a better driver," he concluded. "It gave me some good pointers as to where I can improve, so it was really beneficial in that respect. I'd like to thank RSF founder Graham Sharp and the foundation's Derek Walters for giving me the opportunity, as well its ambassador John Surtees, Fortec boss Richard Dutton and 'Mr. Karting' Martin Hines for the time they devoted to assessing me and the other drivers."
"Tom is a promising young British driver," added a palpably impressed Walters, "but on this occasion he was up against drivers with more experience of single-seaters which left him at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, he acquitted himself well and should feel proud of his performance, and we wish him well.
"Since that shoot-out, he's gone on to showcase his talent in a British Touring Car test, too, where he demonstrated his commitment and pace in a more familiar seat. On the basis of these performances, he's certainly one to watch out for in the not-too-distant future."