After undertaking his first season of International rallying this year in the European Rally Championship junior category, Chris Ingram has proven he can mix it with the best the ERC has to offer.
The Manchester driver spent the majority of the season fighting at the front of the field in an inferior car, forcing his Twingo into battles with some of the world’s best young rallying talent along with co-driver Gabin Moreau.
“It’s my first full year of international rallying in the ERC,” said Ingram.
“We started in the Twingo, which is good to learn in but it was difficult to fight for wins in that car.”
Ingram opened the season in Latvia, where some tricky conditions led to a difficult weekend for the Brit. It was his home rally on this year’s calendar, The Circuit of Ireland rally, where Chris’ season really began.
“I was leading in Ireland and won the Colin McRae award. That’s been one of the highlights of my career.”
Ingram crashed out of the ERC junior lead, but the Colin McRae ‘Flat Out’ award proved that he had ruffled some feathers on the timing screens.
It was a smiling Kris Meeke who awarded Ingram with the ‘Flat Out’ trophy after the event, Ingram becoming the youngest winner of the award in the process.
After Ireland it was Rally Azores in Portugal, where Ingram finally combined his undoubted early season pace with a finish, notching second just behind ERC junior front-runner and Peugeot works driver Stephane Lefebvre.
“That was so difficult, the Twingo is a tarmac car and the stages are so twisty and loose on the gravel. It’s an awesome rally.”
Perhaps equally impressive as the Azores performance was Rally Ypres, one of the most gruelling tarmac rallies in the world. Ingram fought with Lefebvre again and eventual winner and title front-runner Andrea Crugnola, finishing third, with five of the top seven cars being the dominant Peugeot 208s.
“On the first day we had a lot of problems, and on the second day I drove really hard and set some fastest times, faster than Lefebvre, who’s the Peugeot works driver, and he lives about 50km from Ypres.”
Getting so close to a driver who knows the rally’s routes so well, which is a major advantage in international rallying, again reflected well on Ingram on his way to a second straight podium.
After Ypres came a difficult period for Ingram, a he decided to go in a different direction and change machinery, with no guarantee of another drive for the rest of the season.
Not long after though, Peugeot came knocking and Ingram announced a deal with them in August, not long before the Barum Rally in Czech Republic.
“I sold the Twingo and didn’t have any budget, I thought it was all over,” he said.
“Then I got a life-changing call from Peugeot UK, they had been talking to Peugeot Sport boss Bruno Famin, and also Jean-Pierre Nicolas, who recommended we met up to discuss Peugeot UK potentially getting back into the sport.”
After a few meetings and discussions, Peugeot UK had agreed to make a rally come-back with a fresh face and a legendary team.
“We went with a new team to run the car, which is ran by Julien and Jean-Pierre Nicolas. He’s the former Peugeot WRC team boss, and currently the ERC’s sporting director. The team consists former Peugeot WRC team and Bozian Racing members from when they were running the likes of Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm, so obviously it was an easy decision to go with them.”
With just two weeks to get everything together before Barum, it was a hectic period for Ingram, and the rally didn’t exactly go perfectly to plan.
After setting some quick early times, power steering and clutch issues led to a ninth place finish in his Peugeot debut, but the signs were encouraging.
After Barum, and with more time to shakedown the car, Ingram embarked on his last rally of the ERC season, Valais, in Switzerland.
“We tested in 25 degrees in France, and went to Switzerland and it was -5 degrees and snowing and the car felt very different. It was quite icy, and the first car on the first stage crashed so that puts me off and I lost a lot of time to Crugnola.
“After that we were within a few seconds of him [Crugnola], I think people were impressed with that pace, in our first time there.
Despite remaining close to Crugnola in second on the rally, a slight mistake saw him slip into a ditch, where the 208 was stranded. The added pressure of his Peugeot debut took its toll on the 20-year-old.
“I knew I wasn’t driving perfectly, I didn’t have one perfect stage. I put too much pressure on myself.”
Despite not ending the season in the perfect manner, Ingram has delivered some astounding pace in his first full international season of rallying, and the future looks bright for the youngster.
“It’s not always about the results at my age, it’s about showing potential too. I think we have proved that we can do it next year.”
The first half of the season especially, with Ingram putting the plucky Twingo at the front with the works Peugeots, proves that he is one to watch next year, where he aims to contest a full ERC junior season.
The 24 Motorsports Blog will bring you a preview of Ingram and his chances on Wales Rally GB early next week, stay tuned.
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All Images copyright and courtesy of the ERC