-Team Toyota GB with Ginsters star rolls the dice at Croft
-Bucks ace’s tyre gamble narrowly fails to pay off in Yorkshire
-Home soil next for Speedworks Motorsport-run squad
Tom Ingram rolled the dice in a bid for glory in the British Touring Car Championship at Croft last weekend (15/16 June), and whilst his bold tyre gamble narrowly failed to pay off, the Team Toyota GB with Ginsters star insists he would ‘do the same again’ – as Team Principal Christian Dick revealed his pride in the Speedworks Motorsport-run squad for having the ‘courage of its convictions’.
On a freshly-resurfaced track, Ingram worked methodically through his pre-planned programme during free practice in North Yorkshire, but a disjointed qualifying session – punctuated by a succession of red flag stoppages for incidents and rain showers – restricted him to a frustrated and unrepresentative 15th on the grid amongst the 30 high-calibre contenders in the UK’s premier motor racing series.
That left the Bucks-born ace with a mountain to climb on race day, and he began the first of the three ITV4 live-televised contests with 24kg of success ballast on-board and on the less favourable hard-compound tyres, making his task doubly difficult. Undeterred, an assertive start saw him swiftly gain four positions to 11th behind the wheel of the #80 Toyota Corolla, and – despite losing his power steering not long after – that was where he would finish.
The best-placed driver on the hard tyres, the result confirmed Ingram as the only competitor to have finished inside the points in each of the opening ten races of the campaign – testament to his commendable consistency in what is widely regarded as the world’s most fiercely-disputed tin-top series.
Now free of ballast and back on the regular tyres, the reigning two-time BTCC Independents’ Champion pulled off a flurry of gritty overtakes to advance to seventh in race two, earning him third on the partially-reversed grid for the day’s finale. With his closest rival on the standard rubber all the way down in 14th, the stars were aligning – at least, until a heavy shower soaked the circuit and left teams in a quandary.
With the track drying out, Ingram took a gamble and bolted on slicks – the only driver inside the top 15 to do so – knowing that the initial laps would be all about establishing the grip level, tiptoeing around and remaining patient while waiting for the conditions to come to him. They eventually did, but too late, and it was only in the closing stages that he was able to begin scything back through the field from 23rd, eventually taking the chequered flag 16th, just 1.7 seconds shy of the points-paying positions.
Posting the race’s fastest lap on the final tour, all the 25-year-old could realistically do was prove his pace and prowess, and that he did with aplomb, circulating at times almost five seconds quicker than any of the other slick-shod drivers and thrilling fans along the way by repeatedly rescuing lurid sideways slides.
Next up on the 2019 BTCC schedule will be Oulton Park on 29/30 June – Cheshire-based Speedworks Motorsport’s backyard – and Ingram will head there sitting ninth in the overall Drivers’ standings, with Team Toyota GB with Ginsters occupying the same spot in the Manufacturers’ table.
Tom Ingram, Driver, Team Toyota GB with Ginsters, said:
“Sometimes you have to take a chance, and I’ve received so many messages since the weekend from people saying they were impressed we had the guts to follow our instincts when nearly everybody else was playing safe. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of driving on slicks on a damp track, but we just couldn’t generate temperature in the tyres quickly enough and I had some proper big ‘moments’. Ultimately, we lost too much ground early on and by the time it turned our way, the damage was done – but it was a lot of fun.
“Going back to the beginning of the weekend, with a new car this season and the new surface at Croft, there wasn’t really a lot of data we could carry over from previous years so it was a bit like starting from scratch, but the Corolla felt pretty good from the outset, which left us feeling confident.
“Unfortunately, qualifying was then such a chaotic session with five red flags, two rain showers and just one flying lap, which was the ‘banker’ we set when we first went out – we started plenty of laps, but never actually got to complete them! That was frustrating, because we knew the car had so much more to give but at least we got one timed lap in when some drivers didn’t get any at all, so it could definitely have been worse.
“We were conscious we were going to be up against it on the hard tyres in race one – particularly with the track still being greasy and cold from overnight rain – but we decided to take the pain then in the hope and expectation that it would pay off later in the day. The power steering issue compounded the situation – I felt like I’d done a full gym workout by the end – so in the circumstances, it was very satisfying to move forwards and score some decent points.
“In race two, I was mindful of looking after the tyres to begin with to be able to attack later on, and that allowed me to pull off some ballsy overtakes in the closing stages. Since we’re not right up there in the title battle at the moment, we can take a few more risks and go properly doorhandle-to-doorhandle without fearing the consequences if it goes wrong – and that’s a nice position to be in. My move on Josh Cook was really enjoyable – just hanging on for dear life through the Jim Clark Esses at more than 130mph. That was mega!
“Realistically, we knew it was going to be very tough to beat the rear wheel-drive cars in a straight fight at Croft, so our strategy was for race three to be our big opportunity, with the majority of the field on the harder tyres. That plan was working to perfection, and then obviously it rained – but whilst our gamble didn’t pay off on this occasion, I would do exactly the same again…”
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Team Toyota GB with Ginsters, said:
“Another weekend where circumstances conspired to prevent us from showing our full potential. After making good progress with the Corolla during free practice, we felt optimistic of challenging for the top eight in qualifying – but I’ve never seen a session like that before. Thankfully, we managed to get one timed lap in early, but whenever we went back out again, Tom would put in a green first sector, green second sector and then the red flags flew! A lot of people had a similar story to tell, but it was still obviously frustrating.
“I thought Tom produced a blinding effort in race one on the hard tyres, and seventh position in race two represented more good, solid points and set us up very nicely on the reversed grid for race three. With everybody else at the sharp end being on the hard tyres, we felt it was pretty much ours to lose – and then the heavens opened, which threw our original strategy out of the window.
“In the lead-up to the race, you could see a clear dry line was emerging, and considering the track temperature, the wind and the bright sky – plus the fact that the circuit had dried quickly all weekend after previous showers – we thought, ‘let’s give it a go’. We had gone conservative in similar scenarios at Brands Hatch both this year and last and each time we fell down the field, so we decided to take a punt.
“It was a heck of a gamble, but if anyone was going to pull it off, we knew it would be Tom – he absolutely excels in those conditions and we know he can get the best out of the car in any situation. At least three other team managers came over to me before the start and said, ‘you’ve won this’ – that’s how close a call it was and with just another lap under the safety car or indeed another safety car period, it could so easily have been an inspired choice.
“Tom delivered an absolute masterclass in car control and commitment, and none of the other slick-shod runners could get even remotely close to his pace for most of the race. Yes, ultimately it was the wrong decision, but I’m incredibly proud of all of us for sticking to our guns and having the courage of our convictions – and at the end of the day, it resulted in some fantastic TV coverage for our wonderful sponsors.
“Next, it’s our home track – Oulton Park. The difficulty of overtaking there means qualifying is key, and we’ve tended to go into it heavy in recent seasons, which has left us further down the grid and really compromised the rest of our weekend. This year, we’ll arrive carrying significantly less ballast – so hopefully that will give us much more of a fighting chance.”