Toyota’s return to the BTCC ahead of the 2019 season was one of the biggest talking points of last year. After a lengthy absence which began at the end of 1995, the return of Toyota in a works capacity was a hit with series fans and the fairytale return was complete when Tom Ingram took his first race win of the season in front of Toyota staff in race three at Donington Park.
As Speedworks Motorsport head into 2020 and the second year of their Toyota GB factory deal, hopes will be high within the team of building on a promising season. However, as always with the BTCC the competition doesn’t stand still. With strong manufacturer efforts from BMW and Honda as competition, along with rapidly improving independent outfits such as BTC Racing and AmD Tuning, the sole-car Toyota outfit faces an even sterner challenge in the quest for overall glory this time around.
But just how to Speedworks stack up against the competition? And what areas could we see an improvement this coming season? I’ve taken a deeper look.
Ingram Proving To Be Among The Very Best
One ace up Toyota’s sleeve is undoubtedly Tom Ingram. The High Wycombe-born racer will turn 27 in 2020, and after winning the 2013 Ginetta GT 4 Supercup, this coming season will mark his seventh consecutive year in the BTCC. Ingram is a driver who has spent the whole of his current career to date within the same team, and that consistency and relationship between Ingram and Speedworks has been key in supporting the phenomenal progress the team has made over the last few seasons.
Ingram burst onto the BTCC scene with that brilliant defensive drive fending off Jason Plato at Rockingham in late 2015. Despite eventually falling prey to Plato and finishing second to Plato’s then-MG 6 in that particular race, his career trajectory was upwards from there, as he followed up with another 2nd place in the next round at Brands Hatch GP. His first race victory came just a matter of months later in the Toyota Avensis as he took a lights to flag race victory in the 2016 season-opener at Brands Hatch Indy.
He won again in 2016 at Silverstone to finish the year 10th overall but it was in 2017 and then again in 2018 that Ingram began to regularly appear near the head of the leaderboard. 3rd place overall in 2017 was followed up by a brilliant 2nd place overall in 2018 where heading into the final round of the season, he was the closest challenger to eventual title winner Colin Turkington. 2017 and 2018 also included back to back Independent driver’s title wins. Ingram and his team Speedworks Motorsport had gone head to head with some of the best-funded and most successful teams in the BTCC and were coming out on top. It was only a matter of time before someone took notice.
Five years of steady progress for Ingram and Speedworks paid off in 2019 with the arrival of Toyota backing. A successful season meant that the new Corolla GT secured four race wins, including two on a memorable Sunday at Silverstone which lifted Ingram into distant title contention heading into the final round of the season. Ingram has achieved everything there is to achieve in the BTCC with race wins and an independent driver’s title. Everything that is, apart from the overall driver’s championship.
Three years of top-six finishes in the title race will have given Ingram all the tools he needs to make that final step, and we’ve seen Ingram display his title credentials, consistency, speed and racecraft necessary to win overall honours on multiple occasions in the past. But the final piece of the puzzle is the most difficult. In the upper echelons of the BTCC, there’s little to choose between many of the top drivers, but in Ingram, Speedworks have someone capable of winning the ultimate prize.
And What Of The Toyota Corolla GT?
There are inherent difficulties in bedding in a brand-new car as a single-car team. After the successes of 2018 and understandable fan enthusiasm given the return of Toyota and a brand-new car, hopes were high heading into 2019 that the Corolla would be an instant front-runner. Ingram and Speedworks were quick to downplay expectations for 2019, especially in the first half of the year. Whereas the likes of West Surrey Racing had three drivers and three sets of data to analyse after every session to aid the development of their new BMW, Speedworks had to rely on data from just one car.
The rate of car development and learning will have clearly been slower than at rival teams, but at the same time that means there’s the potential that heading into 2020, we could well see the Corolla make even bigger gains as the team continue to unlock more and more of its potential. The disadvantage of being part of a single-car team is obvious when it comes to data, learning and having teammates to help fight your corner. However, there are also advantages with the whole team being able to unite around one car and driver. There are no team orders or inter-team battles at Speedworks, just a clear focus on providing Ingram with the best car possible to bring home points and race wins.
In some respects that Donington Park victory so early on in 2019 likely flattered the overall speed of the Corolla at such an early stage in the season. However, come Snetterton and the beginning of the second half of the campaign, the pace Ingram showed to take pole position and the win was raw. Those two race wins on a crazy day at Silverstone near the end of the season meant that heading into the finale at Brands Hatch GP, there was still a slim chance that Ingram would be able to win the title, however, a 23rd place finish in race one put an end to those chances. Still, Ingram finished 3rd in terms of race victories last season, beaten only by Andrew Jordan and Colin Turkington. Not bad at all for a learning year.
But what can we expect from the partnership in 2020?
You can rest assured that progress will have been made over the winter break, and with a full race meeting’s worth of data now in the bank at almost every track (bar Silverstone International), I’m expecting a stronger qualifying performance to be there right from the outset. On average, Ingram was the 10th fastest qualifier in 2019 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Corolla start higher up the grid more often in 2020. He often raced cleanly and consistently, displaying excellent racecraft scoring points on 24 out of 30 occasions. As is obvious in motorsport, the higher up the grid you start, the less chance you have of running into trouble.
Then there’s also the fact that the annual visit to the Silverstone National Circuit has been moved from its late-season slot to April. Something of a home race for Ingram, he’s taken victory there in each of the last four seasons, a truly remarkable record. If he continues his form at the circuit into 2020, then he could well find himself up at the sharp end of the championship fight very early on in the season.
There’s no doubt that heading into 2020 Tom Ingram and Speedworks will again have a legion of loyal fans, all eager to see the team take the Corolla to the ultimate prize in British motorsport. The last three seasons have proved that Speedworks are capable of consistent running at the sharp end of the BTCC, something made even more impressive given their status as a single-car outfit. The competition will be stronger than in the previous years but I believe that with Speedworks in particular, the potential for progress could be far greater, too.
Like always in the BTCC luck will no doubt play a part in the outcome of the title race, but heading into 2020 I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the paddock who wouldn’t consider Ingram and Speedworks a serious contender for title honours.