Tom Ingram piloted his all-new Toyota Corolla to a hat-trick of points-scoring finishes on its British Touring Car Championship debut at Brands Hatch at the weekend.
Buoyed by a productive pre-season testing programme, Ingram arrived at Brands Hatch’s short Indy circuit eager to see where he and Team Toyota GB stood in the BTCC pecking order with the new Corolla, built and prepared over the winter by Cheshire-based Speedworks Motorsport.
A top-10 protagonist throughout free practice, the Bucks-born ace went on to qualify eighth among the 30 high-calibre contenders on a damp track and with a succession of red flags repeatedly interrupting his rhythm.
The fact that the leading 18 drivers were blanketed by barely a second offered some indication of the fierce nature of the competition.
With the rain returning the following day, Ingram plumped for wet tyres for race one – in company with the majority of the sharp end of the grid – and he mastered his first-ever start in the Corolla to hold position at lights-out on a greasy circuit.
As the track dried, however, he found himself defenceless against the slicks, who increasingly and inevitably scythed their way through. Falling almost to the foot of the top 20 at one stage, he grittily fought back to salvage 13th at the chequered flag.
In race two, the reigning two-time BTCC Independent Drivers’ Champion immediately gained ground as he battled his way into the top 10 by lap five – all the while judiciously conserving his tyres in preparation for a late charge.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras and tens of thousands of appreciative spectators, Ingram then rapidly closed down the gaps ahead as the #80 Corolla proved to be consistently the fastest car on the track over the second half of the race.
Latching onto the tail of the second-placed battle, he flashed across the finish line in fifth position, less than 0.3s adrift of the runner-up laurels.
That left the 25-year-old seventh on the reversed grid for the day’s finale, carrying 30kg of success ballast and on the soft-compound tyres.
After pulling off a series of eye-catching moves to advance to fourth early on, the combination of the extra weight – another ‘first’ for the new Corolla – and less-favourable rubber gradually took its toll, obliging him to switch to a rearguard action as he came under immense pressure from behind.
Ingram valiantly held off a marauding pack of five rivals in the closing stages to grittily cling on to a second consecutive top ten finish, meaning he heads next to Donington Park on 27/28 April occupying 10th spot in the Drivers’ standings, with Team Toyota 12th in the team table.
Team principal Christian Dick said: “I think you would classify that as a solid start to the season. Sunday provided us with pretty much the worst conditions you could ask for when you’re trying to get to grips with a new car, but we nevertheless managed to score points in all three races.”
Ingram added: “Overall, that was a positive first weekend. With no prior wet testing behind us, we qualified inside the top 10 in tricky mixed conditions, scored points in all three races and had the quickest car on the track over the second half of race two.
“Considering the Corolla is brand new, I think we’re in a fairly good position. Yes, we still have work to do and we know where we need to improve, but we always said the first half of this season – if not longer – would be spent learning, understanding, developing and fine-tuning.”