28 SEP 2012

The last time Tom Ingram had sat in a racing car, he had been airlifted to hospital following a start-line shunt in the Ginetta GT Supercup that left him with badly bruised and swollen legs, perforated ligaments and damaged tendons. He returned at Rockingham with a hard-fought double victory that has consummately reignited his title bid.

After the driveshaft failure at Knockhill that rendered him a helpless passenger with rivals hurtling towards him at 95mph, Ingram had just a four-week window to regain both physical fitness and psychological readiness for the resumption of Ginetta GT Supercup hostilities at Rockingham, as the series reprised its headlining support role for the ITV4 live-televised British Touring Car Championship. It was not, he concedes, the easiest of periods.

“A lot of work went on behind-the-scenes to get not only the car rebuilt but also my head back into gear,” confessed the talented young High Wycombe-based speed demon. “That took a little bit of time, as the impact had really shaken me up.

“It was a tough four weeks – I got bored senseless pretty quickly being told to rest when all I wanted to do was get out and be active – and there were times when I wondered, ‘am I going to be able to do this?’ It seemed to take a long while before my leg started to get better – after two weeks, I was still on crutches – and it was only in the last week that I could do any training again.”

A private shakedown at Mallory Park enabled Ingram to readjust to his JHR Developments-run Ginetta G55 in a non-competitive environment away from the spotlight, and having departed Knockhill with a bang, he travelled to Northants circuit Rockingham fired-up to return with a different kind of bang altogether.

Blitzing practice in the dry – lapping fastest to the tune of almost half-a-second and setting all five of the day’s quickest times – the comeback kid was on the money straight out-of-the-box and immediately back in the groove. It was, he admitted, a timely confidence boost, and one that he duly converted into a commanding fourth pole position of the season, a gaping second-and-a-half clear of the championship leader and making him the qualifying king of 2012 to-date.

“Rockingham is a circuit I love,” mused the SKYCIG and Hansford Sensors-backed KX Akademy protégé. “It’s challenging and technical with a lot of corners that link up, and you really need to look after your car and tyres well, whilst making sure you clip all the apexes and keep it smooth.

“I wanted to come back and show the accident hadn’t affected me – I had a point to prove, I guess – and the car felt phenomenal, for which I owe a huge ‘thank you’ to everybody at JHR. It was no mean feat to put it back together again, because it had been left really beaten-up at Knockhill. It was a pretty amazing effort.

“In race one, I felt tense and edgy on the start-line, just hoping the car would pull away. My stomach was churning and my nerves got the better of me when the lights went out, as I got too much wheelspin and had to tuck into third place. After a few laps, there was a safety car period and when the race re-started, Andy Richardson in second looked to be struggling for grip and I took advantage of that to dive down the inside into Tarzan Hairpin.

“By that stage, the leader Carl Breeze had a sizeable margin, but I knew we had the pace to catch him. I had kept my tyres in good condition, and I was able to just grind down his lead. He’s a wily old fox and always extremely difficult to pass, but I was really strong in the final sector and on lap 16, I got a good run out of Tarzan which put us side-by-side entering the chicane. That compromised his line, and I got a great cut-back to exit the chicane on the inside as we headed towards the start/finish line.

“I got on the power nice and early, and as we came around the banking, the ‘Last Lap’ board appeared – I’d had no idea we were that close to the end, because I had been so focussed on the battle with Carl. I managed to hold him out wide going into Turn One, and then it was just a question of bringing it home.

“It felt so good to win again – it seemed like it had been ages since we had last stood on the top step of the podium – and to do so after Knockhill just made it even more special. This one was for the JHR boys – the perfect way to pay them back for all their efforts.”

Setting three consecutive lap records as he relentlessly hunted his quarry down, Ingram’s fifth triumph of the campaign was a magnificent performance, but when the heavens opened ahead of race two the next day, the Ginetta GT Supercup protagonists were suddenly faced with rooster-tails of spray and minimal grip. From pole position once more – and despite another less-than-perfect getaway – the 19-year-old British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star and MSA Academy member mastered the treacherous conditions with admirable ease.

“I always enjoy driving in the rain and we’ve established a good set-up for the car in the wet,” he revealed. “I didn’t get a good start again – too many revs resulted in too much wheelspin, dropping me to third – but I salvaged second place with a late lunge down the inside into the first corner. After that, I concentrated on trying to reduce the gap to Breeze in the lead.

“I was a little bit disappointed when the safety car came out on lap five just as I was really beginning to apply the pressure and had opened up a handy margin over the guys behind, but I kept my tyres nicely warm and at the re-start, Carl went very wide into Turn One. I moved to the inside and he cut back across me on the exit, which resulted in a little bit of contact. I managed to pass him on the inside going into the next corner but couldn’t quite get the car stopped in time.

“After that, I settled back down and waited for my moment, and on lap 11 as we headed towards Tarzan – where I knew I was strong – I sold Carl a dummy. I moved to the outside before darting across to the inside through the puddles; that put us side-by-side on the run down to the following left-hander, at which point it was a case of last-of-the-late-brakers and I was able to sweep around the outside of him to emerge on top. I then just made sure I kept everything under control, and it was fantastic to make it a double victory!”

The reward for another supremely brave manoeuvre as Ingram left his braking literally as late as he dared, the KENNETT brand ambassador’s second consecutive success has seen him slash the deficit separating him from the championship lead from 77 points to 44 with 182 still up for grabs.

Better yet, the final two outings will be at Silverstone – scene of a similarly dominant double two years ago – and Brands Hatch, where he clinched both the Ginetta Junior Championship crown in 2010 and Ginetta G50 Cup laurels 12 months later. The quest for the title hat-trick, he asserts, remains very much on.

“The victories at Rockingham were amongst the most satisfying I’ve ever achieved as we had to work so hard for them,” the former British Karting Champion concluded. “I’d say it was one of the best weekends of my career. I don’t think anybody really expected us to come back and win straightaway, but we’ve put a lot of those doubts to bed now. Knockhill is just a distant memory. We’re still in contention – this isn’t over yet.”

Article provided by Tom Ingram