With just under three weeks to go to the start of the BTCC season, many of the teams decamped to the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire on Tuesday for a day of testing and tweaking, and Stockport-based Speedworks Motorsport were no exception.
This year the Bredbury team are providing engineering support to Handy Motorsport’s Simon Belcher, but the main focus of the operation will be on BTCC newcomer Tom Ingram. The 20-year-old from High Wycombe was picked out as one of the BRDC’s Rising Stars at the age of seventeen and nominated this year as one of just fourteen BRDC ‘SuperStars’ — a support and mentoring programme for British motorsport’s brightest young talents. He won the Ginetta Juniors championship in his first full season before taking the Ginetta Supercup title twice, in 2011 and 2013. In short, this kid is quick. Seriously quick.
Everybody you speak to at Speedworks is full of praise for Ingram. Since signing at the start of the year, he’s impressed with his professionalism and the quality of feedback he’s been able to provide the team, despite the fact that Tuesday’s outing was only his second time behind the wheel of a touring car. ‘He’s very relaxed with his attitude,’ team boss Christian Dick told me, ‘but don’t confuse being very relaxed with how intense and concentrated he is on getting the job done.’
Speaking to Ingram, you get a sense of a young man very much at ease with himself and with the task facing him this year. ‘With seven previous champions on the grid it’s going to be a tough year,’ he says. ‘Today’s the first time I’ve been able to drive the car in dry conditions, so I’m taking today as another learning day as much as anything else.’
Don’t be fooled in to thinking he’s just turned up to cruise around the 2.69 mile lap, though. ‘There’s a little gremlin in that back of my mind going, “what’s he doing, what time’s he doing”,’ he says. ‘I kept saying to Christian over the radio, “what times are they doing” and he had to remind me, you know, we’re not doing lap times… the racer in me wants to just crack on and try and put some lap times in but I’ve got to be sensible and know that, yeah, we’re still learning it.’
Speaking with an easy confidence, he admits that he’s still getting to grips with the technical aspects of driving a touring car. ‘The settings we’ve got on the car — there’s so many to choose from,’ he explains. ‘On the Ginetta, we’ve got a little bit of understeer, we’ll just take a bit of rear wing off — on this, we’ve got understeer, what shall we do — well what do you want to do, we can change anything you want. So it’s getting my head around that as well.’
Throughout our interview, Ingram has lived up to his billing — relaxed, professional, mature, unflappable. Yet he still retains a boyish enthusiasm that comes to the forefront when asked what it’s like to be starting his first season at the pinnacle of tin-top racing. ‘This is the first day there’s been other touring cars here, so I was going round earlier and seeing some of the BMWs come past, thinking “this is so cool!”
‘It’s been my childhood dream to get to the BTCC. It’s what sparked my interest in the first place — watching Alain Menu, Jason Plato and these type of people, and to be lined up on the grid against them is going to be pretty cool.’
Ingram’s aim is to become the BTCC’s youngest ever champion. When the lights go out at Brands Hatch on March 29th, he’ll be aged just 20 years, 7 months and 9 days. That gives him at least three seasons to achieve that goal — Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan became the current holder of the record when he took the overall championship last season, aged 24 years, 4 months and 19 days.
What’s particularly exciting is that by all accounts Ingram has taken to touring cars like a duck to water. The times from Tuesday’s session are not available to the public, and with every team running different test programmes it’s difficult to judge precisely where everybody stands. But chatting with Speedworks team principal Christian Dick, he’s quietly confident. ‘We’re right in the mix. You don’t want to be too confident, though, because you don’t know who’s sandbagging, how much ballast or what equipment other teams are running and so on.’
There is one thing he’s sure about, though. Nodding towards his young driver, standing chatting to the engineers whilst the latest adjustment is made to the car, Dick smiles. ‘Tell you what,’ he says, ‘he is seriously good.’
Below: photographs from Tuesday’s BTCC test day at Oulton Park. All (c) Simon Kelsey, 2014.