Toyota at the 2017 BTCC: report from rounds 25-27

Last weekend the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship completed its penultimate weekend at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone.

Avensis driver Tom Ingram of Speedworks Motorsport has always shone at Silverstone, and he used the weekend as an opportunity to inch closer to the top of the table. The results saw Ingram jump from fifth to fourth in the championship, improving his mathematical chance of the overall title while reinforcing the team’s lead in the independents championships.

Rob Austin also enjoyed a fruitful weekend at the sharp end of the championship, securing two fifth positions for his Handy Motorsport team.

Read on to understand how the weekend unfolded.

Silverstone: Free Practice and Qualifying

Having been within half a second of the best in the first free practice session, Ingram topped the second with a convincing lap that ducked into the 58-second bracket. “We did the whole thing on old tyres, right until the end,” revealed Ingram. “We probably left that run a bit late, if truth be told. We can always get more out of everything, so we’ll look through all the video and data and see where our strengths and weaknesses lie.”

Moving into qualifying, everybody was on top form. In fact, for the first time in BTCC history the entire 32-car field was separated by less than a second. Austin looked to be heading towards the first row of the grid until his flying lap was delayed by circuit traffic. Nevertheless, crossing the line just 0.229 seconds behind pole put him in a strong sixth position.

Meanwhile, Ingram left it late to clinch another superb lap. Missing out on pole by just one thousandth of a second (the equivalent of 46 millimetres), his performance belied the fact that the Speedworks Motorsport Avensis was still carrying an additional 39kg of success ballast.

Silverstone: Round 25

Not deterred by the seeming disadvantage of starting on the damp side of the track, Ingram made a blistering start to immediately snatch the lead from Jack Goff. Threats continued through much of the race, although the biggest challenge to Ingram’s leadership was the arrival of rain from lap four. A wild slide through Copse deleted some of the 1.8-second advantage held over Goff but Ingram held on until lap 15 when the red flags signalled an early end to the race.

It was Ingram’s fourth win of the season, second only to championship leader Ashley Sutton. “I really didn’t expect to get such a good start as the drivers on [my] side of the grid had struggled to get away from the line, but I could see Jack wheel-spin slightly so I knew that was my opportunity,” Ingram commented.

“After that it was so difficult to get temperature into the rear tyres. And as the rain came down I had to swallow a few brave pills as I was the first to discover the conditions, which made me a bit of a guinea pig for everybody behind!”

Austin also make a strong start to race one, improving his position from sixth to a high of fourth despite the weather unexpectedly cooling to make the team’s choice of a hard tyre compound a hindrance rather than an advantage. Slowly but surely the chasing pack on softer tyres edged Austin backwards, eventually concluding in ninth position when the race was red-flagged.

Silverstone: Round 26

Heading into race two on the harder Dunlop compound and weighed down with the maximum 75kg of success ballast, Speedworks was under no illusion that the going would be tough. Nevertheless, Ingram held on to the lead for the first couple of laps before eventually yielding to Goff’s lighter car on lap three. A defensive masterclass ensued as Ingram clung to second in the face of intense pressure from Turkington and Sutton, who were having their own scrap for third, thereby clinching his eighth podium finish of the season.

Meanwhile, Austin was able to return to the prime tyre compound to help fend off threats from the sky as well as ground-level. There was action aplenty as the Handy Motorsport driver shuffled himself through the pack with some fantastic inside passes to heart-in-mouth moments across the grass. In the final lap, a last-ditch push against old rival Adam Morgan elevated him to fifth place and a finishing time just a couple of seconds shy of the podium.

Silverstone: Round 27

From seventh on the reversed grid weekend finale, Ingram managed to insert his Avensis in all the right places despite carrying a still-hefty 66kg of success ballast. During a frenetic opening lap he advanced to fourth, before stealing third from Adam Morgan on lap three and second from Dave Newsham a handful of laps later.

Now in pursuit of leader Rob Huff, Ingram spied an opportunity on the exit of Copse on lap 14, only to find himself shoved aggressively on to the grass, relegating him to fifth. “That left us with a lot of grass in the radiator,” revealed Ingram, “which caused the engine temperature to climb and meant we couldn’t really attack again.”

Despite that disadvantage, fourth place was reclaimed from Morgan before the chequered flag fell, concluding Ingram’s best BTCC points haul to date and securing his position as the weekend’s top scorer.

Scraps within the field held difficulties and advantages for fellow Avensis driver Rob Austin. Making a strong start from fifth place, an edge into third was soon lost after contact pitched the Handy driver into a huge slide. Although the slide was caught with quick reactions, a number of places had been lost. But with remarkable tenacity Austin battled back and capitalised on the red-mist mistakes of others to claim fifth place by lap 25.

2017 BTCC: Where next?

The 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship speeds to a conclusion on the weekend of 30 September to 1 October when it returns to Brands Hatch in Surrey for rounds 28 through 30.

2017 BTCC: driver standings

4 Tom Ingram Speedworks Motorsport 271
12 Rob Austin Handy Motorsport 139

2017 BTCC: team standings

4 Speedworks Motorsport 267
11 Handy Motorsport 139

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