Flawless Ingram stretches his legs with awesome clean sweep north of the border If Forest Whitaker was the Last King of Scotland, then Tom Ingram is indisputably the new one, with a truly imperious performance as the 2010 Ginetta Junior ...
Flawless Ingram stretches his legs with awesome clean sweep north of the border
If Forest Whitaker was the Last King of Scotland, then Tom Ingram is indisputably the new one, with a truly imperious performance as the 2010 Ginetta Junior Championship headed north of the border to Knockhill to claim an incredible fourth consecutive clean sweep of pole position, fastest lap and race victory - and in so doing establish a commanding advantage in the title standings.
Tom travelled to Knockhill in Fife already 17 points clear at the top of the drivers' table off the back of a sublime double triumph a fortnight earlier around the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing', Silverstone - but equally somewhat apprehensive having never previously driven the circuit after being forced to miss it last year. A brace of pre-weekend test sessions would swiftly banish any such concerns.
"They were my first test days since the season had started," confessed the highly-rated young High Wycombe star, "and on the first of them I was really unwell. Out of a two-hour session I could only actually manage about 15 minutes in the car, but I was still pretty much bang on the pace straightaway. I was surprised by just how quickly I got into it, to be honest, because I had heard Knockhill was really undulating and so expected it to take quite a lot of time to get used to and learn properly.
"I walked it a couple of times beforehand, though, with my driver coach Matt, and I think that helped quite a lot. It's a mental track, absolutely mental - coming over the top of the chicane, the car just lifts off the ground and takes off! It's a real balls-out track, and definitely a drivers' circuit - like Oulton Park, only better!"
Truth be told, as soon as the second test day, Tom was the pace, and henceforth he would not once be knocked off the top of the timesheets weekend-long. Lapping quickest of anyone throughout practice in the hotly- contested, ITV-televised and British Touring Car Championship (BTCC)- supporting closed-top sportscar series handed the 17-year-old another timely boost, and he went into qualifying with his confidence sky-high.
"Following Silverstone I had a bit of a psychological edge, I think," he acknowledged, "and after testing during the week I knew I had the speed - to be able to go in and be on the leading pace right from the word 'go' is always encouraging. At the beginning of the weekend, my race engineer asked me 'Are you going to do the same as at Silverstone?' and I replied 'No, because I didn't do it right at Silverstone; I wasn't quickest in practice on Friday and Saturday morning - I didn't do enough there!'"
The ex-British Karting Champion would go on to keep his word to the very letter, and after reflecting that 'I would have let myself down as well as everybody else if I hadn't got pole', he was never in danger of letting anybody down as he sealed a comfortable double pole position in qualifying - though he was made to fight for the top step of the podium in race one by title rival Jake Hill.
"I didn't get off to the best of starts, but I tried to hold Jake out wide and I held the lead for the first couple of laps," Tom recounted. "He then got into my tow along the start/finish straight beginning lap three and managed to get past me, so I pulled in behind because I knew I had the pace to stay with him and just had to keep right there on his bumper, keep on hassling him and wait for a mistake to come.
"He made that mistake coming out of the chicane on the next lap and went briefly off into the gravel - that was my chance, and I took it and just ran with it. I knew I always had a little bit in reserve were he to start gaining on me, and although Jake was a fair way behind after that, I had to keep on pushing to try to get fastest lap. It took its time to come, but it was worth it because it meant I managed to nick that one last available point - it wasn't the best lap I've ever done, but it was good enough to do the job."
A tricky balancing-act - wanting the extra point in the knowledge that it could prove to be vital indeed come season's end, but equally needing to be careful not to go too close to the ragged edge lest he stray beyond it and throw it off the track like his adversary had done - it was one that Tom managed to perfection, and he admitted that it was a 'fantastic feeling' when he took the chequered flag more than five seconds to the good for his third straight success and fourth of the campaign. He would waste little time the next day in adding another.
"Sunday was even better," enthused the Hillspeed ace. "Again, I didn't get the best of starts - I don't seem to be getting the jumps I was getting earlier in the year anymore, which is something I need to work on - and I dropped behind Jake off the line, but I just tried to put him under pressure like I had the previous day so that eventually he would make another mistake.
"I kept poking my nose alongside to make him look behind, and when he came out of the chicane on lap eight he made a bit of a mistake and I knew I had to make my move, because Louise Richardson in third was beginning to catch us. I saw an opening on the inside and went for it; I pulled level with Jake, but he tried to close the door on me which sent me bouncing along the grass. I just kept my foot in and grabbed the lead, though as I then had grass and mud on my tyres I had to make sure I didn't leave my braking until the last moment for the next corner and lock-up and go straight on.
"After that, I managed to hold Jake out enough to compromise his run, and when he and Louise started battling with each other it gave me the edge I needed to get away. I then just settled into a rhythm and focussed on keeping everything smooth and trying to put some quick lap times in to get the extra point for fastest lap again."
The third time in the last four races that he has been edged off the track whilst fighting for the lead, Tom gutsily held his nerve and determinedly kept his composure to notch up another clean sweep and perfect score - again to the tune of some five seconds - meaning he now holds a 55-point margin over Richardson in the chase for the coveted crown and 59 over Hill, with just two outings remaining at Donington Park and Brands Hatch.
Feeling understandably optimistic about his chances, the Conway House and Teng Tools-backed speed demon has the luxury of not needing to win at Donington, a circuit where on his maiden appearance last year he eye- catchingly stormed through the spray from 16th to sixth in torrential conditions. Whilst the same would arguably do this time around, it is clear that he wants rather more...
"It was absolutely spot-on - I really couldn't have asked for a better weekend!" he concluded of Knockhill. "The team was brilliant as always, we did everything we needed to and we came away with a shed-load of points. I could never have expected to be leading the championship by 55 points now. I just need to keep my head, keep everything consistent and not let anything get to me. I don't want to risk anything."
As an interesting postscript, no sooner had he returned to the Hillspeed awning following the second race of the weekend, than the former Wycombe and Marlow Sports Personality of the Year was besieged by spectators eager for autographs and photo opportunities. A knowledgeable bunch, British motorsport fans recognise a winner when they see one - and Tom Ingram is increasingly displaying all the hallmarks of being a genuine superstar.
-source: tom ingram