There’s something very fresh, surprisingly raw and truly exciting happening with Tom Ingram this year. The calm young man the fans have come to love has found an edge.

For seven seasons with Speedworks, he honed his craft and raced hard and true, recording wins against the odds and making himself the undisputed crown prince of the BTCC. Now, he and his sponsors are building a new home with the Excelr8 squad and whilst there’s still much development to come with the Hyundai, his pace (and wins) at Snetterton and Brands Hatch have shown a remarkable determination to push ever harder in his pursuit of points, positions and ultimately, the biggest prize in British motor sport.

Wins at Snetterton and Brands Hatch have catapulted Ingram into a starring role in the 2021 Championship

We start our conversation by talking about teams and teamwork.

TI: “Even though I was in a good place with Speedworks, one of the things you have to do as a driver is to keep your eyes open in the paddock. When Excelr8 joined the BTCC back in 2019, they immediately stood out because they looked like they’d been here for years. They were organised, focused, they presented themselves well and they reacted quickly to changes. I think everyone knew that the MG had had its day, but you could also see that they were working tirelessly to find speed. And then when they arrived at the Silverstone Media Day test last year with two brand new cars that ran solidly and showed real pace, that was the sign that this is a team full of ambition and invested for the long-term.”

Pushing hard to find the limit in free practice.

The results were not only immediate but ongoing. Chris Smiley raced to P2 in the opening weekend of the 2020 season whilst Senna Proctor would also race to P2 at Knockhill. Moreover, the team that had managed just two points finishes in 2019 went on to record over forty top-15 finishes with its new car just twelve months later.

TI: “Straight away last year, you could see that the i30 looked sharp on track. If I was racing just off the podium pack, I was often in the mix with Chris or Senna and suddenly finding that they were matching the strengths that I thought I had with the Corolla. So when the news started to filter that I might have to make some changes for 2021, the decision to talk to Justina (Williams) was an easy one. I knew how good they were at engineering and winning with the Minis; it’s one of the most competitive one-make championships there is, and as someone who’d progressed through the support-grid ranks, it was obvious that there was already serious depth to their drive and talent. Yet they were also fresh and hungry – the edge you talk about, that’s not me, that’s the team.”

The right move: Ingram leads Rory Butcher, his replacement in the Toyota.

As anyone who follows the BTCC closely will know, ‘Tingram’ is far from a solo effort.

For years, he’s crafted a relationship with his engineer Spencer Aldridge. Both had arrived separately at Speedworks as fresh faced novices, Ingram straight from Ginetta, Aldridge as the most junior of juniors. And as Ingrams rise through the ranks made progress, so did ‘Spenny’s’. From making the tea and sweeping the floor to learning the nut and bolt checks, then ever more present at weekends and ultimately grasping the engineering role with unwavering conviction. Aldridge has become an integral figure by Ingram’s side and so the move to the Excelr8 / Trade Price Cars squad would only work if he came too: It was a big ask.

TI: “It wasn’t a case of asking Spenny to come with me because there is no him or me; we’re an us. We want the same thing and this is a journey that we’ll take together, but I’m not going to pretend that leaving Speedworks didn’t hurt. For more or less every day of the last seven years, I was in the workshop, doing whatever needed doing to build my career. That’s not something that you can just walk away from, however, I also knew that  it was going to be easier for me because as a driver, you come to understand that team relationships have to be fluid, it’s rarely personal, just business. But for Spenny, the Corolla was his baby. He designed and built it, so my wins were his. I know it must have felt like the job needed finishing, but I also think we could both see that the opportunities ahead, whilst bringing  bigger challenges were more likely to bring the bigger rewards. In the end, it didn’t need any words. I just looked at him and he looked back at me, and that was that.”

Getting down to business on the opening lap at Brands Hatch

The more we talk, the clearer it becomes that Ingram’s brand of racing is not built solely on talent but also on strong relationships and ultimately trust.

This takes me nicely onto his financial partners, because touring car racing at this level plays to big stakes and ever bigger budgets.

TI: “If it wasn’t for meeting Chris & Lesley Hansford, I don’t think we’d be talking now. They’ve been supporting me since 2012 and right from the very start, they’ve just been there, living every moment and becoming an enormous part of my life. There’s a lot of b… s… in motor sport but Chris won’t have any of it; he’s old school, down to earth, absolutely rock solid. If he thinks something needs saying, he’ll say it, and when he speaks, everyone listens.  So of course, they were amongst the first people Laura and I spoke to, as were Ginsters. It’s never been about putting stickers on cars, but always about building a winning team and playing to our strengths. So the move wasn’t my plan, it was ours, and this meant that we were able to enter talks with years of successful and innovative commercial experience behind us. Again, the edge.”

Finding the perfect line out of Paddock Hill bend

I get this, but after so many years with Speedworks, and the team being built entirely around one driver and his partners, how easy was it for everyone to make the transition to a multi-car squad juggling all those different interests?

TI: “It could have been a concern, but the way we immediately understood each other, I knew that it wasn’t going to be. I think that the team could see that we were the right fit and we thought likewise, and because everyone had been involved in bringing the deal together, by the time we came to test, we’d all gelled and were focused solely on progression. For me as a driver, I now have the benefit of three teammates, each adding something extra to how we develop the car. In hindsight, I think I missed this, but I also think that last year, the team probably struggled with Chris and Senna having very different engineering and driving styles. Us four are now far more cohesive and you can see the pace building for each of us.”

So back to the original premise and the new, edgy Tom Ingram. What is it (apart from the driver) that has already made this car a winner and what more can we expect?

TI: “Is it edgy? Yes it is, but in a controlled and far more predictable way. With the Corolla, we knew that despite all the effort Toyota made to impact the aero, we were losing out on the straights, and this was forcing us into a far more aggressive cornering style than either I or the car really wanted. Don’t get me wrong, we were awesome in, through and out of the twisty-bits, but imagine that you’re wearing a Stetson, riding a jet ski, shouting ‘yee-haw’ and you’ve got one shot at netting a Great White; that’s what it was like. You could find the limit but the tolerance was so fine that you knew that if you didn’t reign it in a little, you were going to get bitten. The i30 is a very different beast, everything is far more predictable and this is allowing us to seek an ever-faster  yet still very much controlled approach. What’s the difference? I have to say ‘confidence’: The confidence we have in exploring the potential, knowing that even if we go in the wrong direction, we’ve got a fantastic chassis to fall back on, and the confidence that I have in feeling the response from the car and having time to react. With the Toyota, I think we were about there; with the Hyundai, we’re only just getting started  . .“

The structure of the British Touring Car Championship, the circuits it visits, and the way that regulations are written and implemented means that there will always be a tightly grouped gathering of worthy title contenders working their way towards the finale; it’s the way it’s meant to be. And whilst there may well be better cars, more experienced teams, and genuine world-class driving talent to overcome,  if ever there was a case of right place and right time for Tom Ingram, I’ll happy say that it’s right now: #YeeHaw.