Tom Ingram has conceded that he is realistically aiming to be ‘best of the rest’ in the British Touring Car Championship, after falling to 38 points behind leader Ash Sutton after Donington Park.
Excelr8 Motorsport driver had a mixed Donington weekend, with the Hyundai driver once again struggling in qualifying with 66 kg of success ballast in his car.
That meant Ingram could only manage 12th in qualifying, giving him a mid-pack starting position for race one from where he gained just one place come the chequered flag.
The upside of that result was Ingram shed all of his weight for race two, and was able to scythe through the field to challenge for the win.
By the middle of the race he was all over the back of the fully-ballasted race one winning Gordon Shedden, and Ingram thought he had sealed the win with a pass on the Honda at Coppice corner.
However, after the race the stewards deemed it a ‘push to pass’ and penalised Ingram, dropping him back to second behind Shedden.
For race three, Ingram was back in 11th on the partially reversed grid and now carrying the full 75 kg of ballast. That again limited his progress, and he ended the race in tenth, having fought tooth-and-nail to try, in vain, to keep points leader Ash Sutton behind him.
“As I’ve repeated many times this season, when you’re in a front wheel-drive car, it’s tough going into the weekend with 66 kg on-board, but that’s the price we pay for being consistently at the front,” said Ingram.
“The ballast makes a big difference at Donington, but I was happy with the balance of the Hyundai in free practice and if I’d managed to hook my three best sectors together in qualifying, we’d have been through to the top ten shootout.
“I honestly don’t think we could have got very much more out of race one. The plain fact is that rear wheel-drive cars carry weight better than front wheel-drive cars do.
“Ash set the fastest lap with 75 kg on, whereas we were 9 kg lighter and struggling outside of the top ten.
“It’s difficult in that scenario, and it means we need to focus on races two and three because that’s the only chance we have to close the gap.
“I was certainly up for a fight in race two. When we take the ballast out, the car absolutely comes alive and it’s brilliant fun.
“The Hyundai was such a pleasure to drive, and I knew the early stages would be crucial because it’s when the tyres are at their peak that you have the greatest advantage without weight.
“Starting 11th, you are invariably at risk of getting caught up in incidents, but I think I’ve proved over the years that I can get through the pack cleanly and when we completed the first lap in sixth place, I thought, ‘this might just be on’.
“Saying that, I was mindful of not wanting to take too much out of my tyres too soon, so I bided my time and carefully chose my moments and it was fantastic to be able to simply pick the other guys off.
“I knew I was quicker than Gordon, and he checked up really early into Coppice on lap ten and brake-tested me, which left me with nowhere else to go but into the back of him.
“The contact was so marginal – there wasn’t so much as a scratch on my car afterwards and it didn’t change his trajectory – but it was deemed to be a ‘push-to-pass’, which was a real kick in the teeth having worked so hard to get to the front.”
Although Ingram, third in the standings and just six points from second, is still mathematically in contention, for the fifth consecutive year, of taking the title, he admits that he is now effectively battling to be the ‘best of the rest’.
“With the full 75 kg in the Hyundai, we knew we would be facing a rearguard action again in race three, and after getting past Ash on the first lap, I tried to slow him up and make his life as difficult as possible because that was all I could do.
“It worked for a while, but there was always a certain inevitability about the situation.
“Realistically, we’re fighting for second in the championship now – the battle is to be ‘best of the rest’ since barring a disaster at Brands Hatch, Ash has got it pretty much sewn up.
“I’m just looking forward to giving it my all one last time this year, and hopefully we can finish the season on a high.”