Tom Ingram proved himself to be comfortably the fastest driver in the field as the hotly-fought 2010 Ginetta Junior Championship resumed from its mid-summer break at Snetterton – and whilst ill-fortune denied him the victories he clearly deserved, the highly-rated young High Wycombe star nonetheless closed the gap in the title standings as the chase for the coveted crown reaches fever pitch.
Having been the very model of consistency and controlled aggression during the opening half of the campaign in the ITV-televised, British Touring Car Championship-supporting closed-top sportscar series, Tom had promised a new approach going into season’s second half, vowing to go all-out for glory and that he would reveal ‘a different side’ – and that showed in his impressively feisty, attacking driving throughout the Snetterton weekend.
Despite having not had the opportunity to test during the seven-week hiatus and having never raced at Snetterton before, the 16-year-old betrayed no rustiness when he did belatedly return to the cockpit for practice. Progressively improving from seventh to fifth to third in the three sessions as he got used to the lines, gear change marks and braking points of the high-speed Norfolk circuit – reducing the deficit to the benchmark from just over a second to scarcely a tenth – he headed into qualifying in optimistic mood.
“Most of the other drivers had been testing at Snetterton the previous week, so it was definitely a disadvantage having not been able to do that, but we picked it up relatively quickly and just got on with it,” Tom explained. “There’s not really a lot to the track, and it’s quite a short lap. You need to be really precise, but it’s not like Oulton Park or Croft where you’re pretty much always in a corner; it’s very quick, and with the long straights the tow is everything.
“I felt confident going into qualifying – a bit over-confident probably, in hindsight… I went into the session thinking I was going to get pole, but I didn’t use my head – rather than working with someone, I tried to do it all by myself and it didn’t work because being in the tow is just so important to lap time around there, so we ended up fifth.”
A valuable lesson learned, it is a mistake the Hillspeed ace will assuredly not make again, and with the times being so close – with barely anything to choose between the leading five contenders, as a scant six hundredths of a second separated Tom from P3 on the grid for the second race – he fully anticipated a real dogfight, but a gear selection issue as the opening encounter revved into life would deal an early blow.
“We knew no-one was really going to break away and that it would be close all the way through,” he acknowledged. “That was encouraging, and also meant it wasn’t going to be an easy race, but rather one that everyone would really have to fight for. I went to go up through the gears off the start-line, but when I tried to put it into second it wouldn’t go. It then got stuck in third and wouldn’t go down again for the next left-hander.
“It just made a horrible whining noise and there was no drive, so I pulled off to the side of the circuit and came to almost a complete stop because I thought my race was over – but then when I put it into second, it miraculously started going again as if nothing had been wrong and off we went. I was 19th, stone dead last and more than nine seconds behind the leader – but all I could think about was trying to battle my way back through again. The race was still on and I was still in it, so I just tried to make up as many places as possible.
“It was like my old karting days in some respects, and great fun as I just tried to salvage as many points as I could. It was the first time I’d ever really been able to do that in cars, and I really enjoyed it. I had the pace I needed to make up ground, and when I got into the top ten I saw third place was only a couple of corners in front, so I thought ‘I’m going to get him’ – and I did! With just another lap or two more I would have been right with the two leaders, which would have been interesting, but still I was really, really pleased with the result, especially having had to come from so far back in order to achieve it.”
An outstanding fight back as Tom smashed the lap record time-after-time – on occasion as much as a second quicker than anybody else, with only the race-winner able to get to within half a second of him full-stop – yielded a magnificent podium finish as the ex-British Karting Champion artfully and determinedly snatched third place on the very last lap.
Coming through the pack like the proverbial hot knife through butter, he took absolutely no prisoners and passed the defending champion as if she was standing still – and having completed the opening lap almost ten seconds in arrears of the leader, the Conway House and NP Aerospace-backed hotshot took the chequered flag barely a second shy of victory, a clear sign of what might have been.
Subsequently fired-up and buoyed ahead of race two the following day, circumstances would unfortunately conspire against him, as the former Wycombe and Marlow Sports Personality of the Year found his efforts scuppered by a prolonged safety car period that effectively cut the distance in half.
“We waited about all day for the race, and then we only actually got four laps of racing!” he lamented. “That was annoying, because I’d just wanted to go out there and do my best. With the pace I had shown the previous day, I would easily have been able to fight for the win had the race been its normal length, but that’s racing – you have to take the good with the bad.”
Having passed and shaken off the challenge of Alex Austin for fifth, Tom went on to grittily chase down championship leader Louise Richardson for P3 in the closing stages – and as he again set a searing pace to take absolute chunks out of his quarry, he latched right onto her bumper by the last lap and prepared to pounce.
“She was defending, so I had to try to pressurise her into making a mistake,” he recounted. “She did into the first part of the last chicane, so she was always going to overshoot the second part and that gave me a run at her on the exit. Onto the pit straight I tried to go down the inside but she cut me off, so I pulled out of her slipstream and alongside on the outside instead. I thought I’d done enough, and afterwards everyone else seemed to think so too. I was really annoyed when I saw what the timing screens said…”
A single thousandth of a second was what the timing screens said, in Richardson’s favour, as the two cars flashed across the line in a literal photo-finish. The fastest lap of the race again proved that Tom palpably had the pace to triumph, and having had the legs of his two title rivals all weekend, third and fourth places at the end of it were ultimately poor reward.
Still, with a whole host of positives to take away from his eastern adventure and having halved the gap separating him from the top of the championship table – with the leading trio now covered by just five points – the Bucks speed demon heads next to Silverstone, the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ and most famous circuit in the country, eager to turn the tables on his adversaries. Eyeing ‘as many points as possible’, having briefly led there on his maiden appearance last year, 12 months on he is ready to finish the job off.
“Overall I left really pleased,” Tom concluded of Snetterton. “We came away with a third new lap record of the year, some decent points, another podium and no real damage to the car. It looks like it’s boiling down to a three-horse race now, and it’s really, really close between us. I think it’s going to go right down to the wire, so it’s going to be all about consistency and staying cool.”
Tom is still seeking sponsorship to be able to complete the 2010 season; if you are interested in backing him, please call him on 07817 883469 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org