Monday, 02 December 2019 18:42

Chris Ingram - How the ERC title was won*

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Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock became the latest in a long line of illustrious winners of the FIA European Rally Championship* following a dramatic final-stage showdown with Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov on Rally Hungary last month in their Toksport WRT ŠKODA Fabia R5.

Relying on vital budget generated through a crowdfunding campaign launched by his mother Jo to complete the season, 25-year-old Ingram revealed how he bounced back from ERC1 Junior title disappointment in August to become the first Briton since Vic Elford in 1967 to claim the coveted regional crown, despite not winning a round outright, a fact he’s quick to play down.

“We had some opportunities where we could have won but the ERC1 Junior title was our focus for the first six rounds and it was always in the back of my mind that I can’t crash the car because we had no money and that would have been the end of it if I had done,” Ingram says. “I just tried to be as consistent as possible, get solid results all year and it paid off. I don’t care if we didn’t win a rally outright, we’ve won the title and no one can take that away from us. I always believed I had the speed and consistency to win it.”

From Twingo to tango

“It’s crazy to think but five years ago I was driving a Renault Twingo R2 with my father helping me prepare the car on rallies,” remembers Ingram. “Five years later I was in a ŠKODA Fabia R5, a top-spec car with Toksport, a top team, fighting drivers like Alexey Lukyanuk that I’ve looked up to for a long time, one of the fastest drivers around. It’s been a dream and I’m so proud the hard work has paid off. But I never thought it would happen, it’s been a difficult journey with lots of highs and lows.”

 

Lifetime ambition achieved

“It was always a dream to be European champion and the fact it had been more than 50 years since a Brit last won it makes it even more special for me,” says Ingram. “It’s one of the biggest things I can achieve in my life. To do it so soon, I’m 25 years old, I’m very proud. I’m already thinking what can I do now, what’s the next thing? But this is a lifetime ambition of mine and a dream come true.”

The turning point

“I would say the Barum Rally was the turning point,” Ingram explains. “The first five rallies were incredibly difficult and I was putting so much pressure on myself and therefore driving slower. Then in Barum I just tried to relax as much as possible. My speed and my normal driving came back and it became easy again and we carried that through for the last three rallies. They were our strongest performances of the season.”

A special guiding light

“This is all thanks to the team, Toksport, but so many people have supported us and especially Ross who has guided me perfectly on every corner of every stage. He’s done an incredible job, so reliable, so focused. We have a fantastic team so I’m just very proud.”

Looking back rally by rally

Azores Rallye, third (21 points): “The Azores is probably one of the best rallies in the world with some of the most incredible stages and scenery, especially the Sete Cidades volcano stage. But we had a spin and some problems so we slipped down the order. To get the podium in the end was good for the championship even though the performance was average.”

Rally Islas Canarias, second (29 points): “I really enjoy the incredible scenery and fast Tarmac stages of Gran Canaria and we’ve had good results there in the past. I started very slowly, we were 16th on the Qualifying Stage and ninth on the first stage, but we improved all the rally and ended up setting some fastest stage times and finished second overall so that was a good performance.”

Rally Liepāja, fourth (20 points): “I wasn’t driving well at all, putting too much pressure on myself. The local guys and Alexey Lukyanuk are probably faster than me. It was difficult, we improved throughout the rally but we only came fourth.”

PZM 76th Rally Poland, DNF, withdrew (0 points): “We had a disaster of a rally. We had a puncture, lost powersteering, then sand filled up in the radiator. As I was trying to fix the car, I burnt my hand really badly and we had to retire. That was the lowest point of the season.”

Rally di Roma Capitale, sixth (12 points): “Rome was probably my worst drive, I just wasn’t able to drive like me, I was putting too much pressure on myself and I was a bit distracted by other things.”

Barum Czech Rally Zlín, third (26 points): “We went to Barum on the back foot and everyone said Filip Mareš is going to win the ERC1 Junior title, you’ve got no chance. He’s the local hero, they said, and all the locals want him to win and his team is from down the road. But I knew that we had a chance if I did my best performance. So, I relaxed as much as possible and my natural speed came back and we had an amazing fight with him. Unfortunately, we lost the title by 0.3s but I didn’t feel like it was such a big loss even though it obviously was because it was also 100,000 euros. But, personally, I gained a lot and I knew as we moved into the overall championship lead by one point, I’d turned a corner and got myself back on track. I knew that we could push for the overall title. It was an event with massive mixed emotions.”

Cyprus Rally, second (27 points): “The final rounds in Cyprus and Hungary were the crucial ones obviously. We played them so tactically and that worked so well. We were just very careful in Cyprus, we knew it was going to be one of the toughest and roughest events in our careers on a rally we’d never done before. We just had to survive and we ended up finishing second to Nasser Al-Attiyah, an absolute legend. That was an amazing result.”

Rally Hungary, fourth (18 points): “Hungary was another brand-new rally and unbelievably tricky conditions. It was a survival rally and we knew we had to be clever again and a podium would secure it. We drove consistently throughout the rally, Ross and myself were just so focused, we couldn’t have done any better. We had two unlucky punctures, I have no idea how we got them, but, in the end, Alexey also did. Dropping to fourth from third with a puncture on the final stage was just catastrophic for us, we were devastated to think we’d lost by just one position. But then shortly after Alexey arrived and he had a puncture. There was so much confusion if he’d won or if we’d won. It took 20 mins to find out, but in the end, it was confirmed. That 20 minutes felt like a lifetime but it was just a moment we’ll never forget and an amazing moment in rallying as well. I’m still reliving that moment now, it’s amazing.”

What’s next?

“WRC2 and the ERC would be the dream but realistically we are exploring all options. I want to stay with Toksport WRT and win another big title,” says Ingram. “But, right now, we’re enjoying the moment, then we’ll get together with the team and Ross and come up with a plan for what’s next. I am sure we will be back in the ERC at some point definitely. But I want to thank everyone at Toksport WRT, Michelin, Car Finance 247 and Mario Iliopoulos from SEAJETS.”

*Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA

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