Tom Ingram has been hailed ‘a world-class driver and future champion’ in the making by the most successful competitor in Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship history following a thrilling wheel-to-wheel duel that yielded his breakthrough podium finish at Rockingham.
Having shown scintillating raw speed but been stymied by persistent clutch issues in the previous outing at Knockhill, Ingram travelled to Rockingham and immediately laid down a marker by lapping quickest in the opening practice session.
The talented Bucks ace proved that was no flash in the pan by backing it up with the second-best time in FP2 before lining up an excellent fourth on the grid in his Speedworks Motorsport-prepared Toyota Avensis.
Gambling on the faster but less durable soft-compound rubber in race one, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar recovered from a wheelspin-afflicted getaway when the lights went out to battle back from seventh, ultimately finishing fifth.
From 13th on the grid in race two and with 39kg of success ballast diluting his Avensis’ pace, Ingram found himself embroiled in a titanic dogfight in the middle of the order, with some gutsy passes securing him 10th place at the chequered flag.
More significantly, the result earned the Hansford Sensors and RHA-supported MSA Academy member his maiden BTCC pole position for race three, ahead of some of the very best touring car protagonists.
If ever he needed to make a bright start, this was it – and Ingram absolutely nailed it.
Pursued by Jason Plato, Turkington and Neal – multiple champions all – he produced the drive of his life under intense and unrelenting pressure and in the full glare of the ITV4 live television cameras, successfully handling a mid-race safety car period into the bargain. On three separate occasions, Plato managed to sneak by, and each time, his 22-year-old adversary fought back.
Although Plato finally found a way past for good on lap 14, the three-time Ginetta Champion refused to let him get away and expertly staved off Turkington to the flag to seal the runner-up spoils, sweeping enthusiastically across the line to massive cheers from his team and the crowd.
Ingram’s phenomenal performance saw him tally the third-highest points haul of the weekend, consolidating his 12th position in the overall standings and fifth in the Independents’ Trophy.
As he climbed out of his car afterwards, it was clear what the moment meant to him.
“This is by far the highlight of my career to-date – something I’ve dreamed about for many years, and today that dream came true,” he enthused. “The BTCC is what I’ve always wanted to do and to finish on the podium in the toughest touring car championship in the world is a lifetime ambition fulfilled.
“We’ve had a lot of bad luck come our way both this year and last, but starting from pole in race three was the best opportunity we’ve ever had – I couldn’t believe it when it was my number that was drawn out!
“I’ve never been as nervous as I was sitting there on the grid, but thankfully I got the start hooked-up perfectly – it gripped and away we went.
“I’m such a small cog in this operation and it’s incredible to repay the team all like this and when I think about what we’ve done, it’s simply mind-blowing.
“I spent the entire slowing-down lap in tears – it was such an emotional moment and almost surreal. This podium is for everyone that has helped me along the way, and now we’ve proved we deserve to be here and that we really mean business, we’re already targeting our first win.”
Plato was the first to congratulate his former protégé in parc fermé, adding: “I’ve worked with Tom as part of the KX Akademy, and we selected him because we knew he was something special.
“He has grown with age and that race demonstrated how good he is – he’s on his way to becoming a world-class driver and a future champion for sure.”