A week in the life of a racing driver

Tom Ingram, who drove a Toyota Avensis in the 2015 British Touring Car Championship, talks us through his hectic preparation for a weekend's racing in the championship

Man at window
Racing helmet and gloves

The build up

“Getting ready for a race day starts early the week before the race. A lot goes into the build up to the weekend, from organising sponsorship, marketing and guest hospitality, to working on my fitness. Driving on track is just a small part of what I do.

“On the Tuesday before the race I visit the team workshop and, with the engineers, I work through the ideal car set up for the weekend ahead.

“On the Wednesday we have what we call ‘shakedown’. We run the car at a track near our base in Cheshire, normally Blyton Park or Three Sisters. I do a few practice starts and bed-in the new brake pads and discs we’ll use at the weekend, and check everything on the car is working fine. The regulations allow us to run a maximum of 25 kilometres before each race weekend and the governing body knows how many kilometres we’ve driven by checking the miles logged on the engine’s electronic control unit.

“Thursday is a travel day. When I arrive at the circuit, I help the team set up the garage and hospitality area.

“On Friday the engineers work on the car to make sure everything is ready, and, like every car, it gets 'scrutineered' – which is when it's checked to make sure it complies with the series technical and safety regulations. I also walk the track to see if the surface or any of the kerbs have been changed from when I last raced there.

“Saturday is the first time I go out on the track in the car. We have two practice sessions where we work on the car set-up, to see if we can make adjustments to improve our lap times. I do some qualifying runs and a full race distance, to see how the car performs. The qualifying session to determine the starting positions for the first race on Sunday is held on Saturday afternoon. Each round of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) has three races – here at Thruxton we have rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the 2015 championship.”

Spectator meeting driver

Race day

“Thruxton’s quite a journey from where I’m based, in Stockport. If a circuit’s far from home, I always stay at the track in the motorhome – it means there’s no battling through traffic on race morning. But I still wake up early, at about half past six, have a bit of breakfast, then greet the guests as they start to arrive. Then I have a breathalyser test – every BTCC driver has to have one on race morning – before the pit-lane walkabout, where spectators and fans can see the cars and garages, and meet the drivers.

“It’s great fun, and really busy as hundreds of fans turn up. Some of our sponsors give out gifts and sample packs, and I sign loads of autographs and have so many photos taken of me. I get given loads of weird and wonderful things to sign – the back of people’s phones, teddy bears, T-shirts, mugs, event programmes. Today, someone wanted me to sign a child’s bike. I haven’t been given a baby to sign yet, but there’s still time.

“As soon as the walkabout finishes I go back to the team truck to check the final race plan with a couple of engineers, the team boss and the number one mechanic. Most things are already sorted – that’s why we do so much preparation in the buildup to the weekend – but things can change depending on where I qualified and if the track temperature and weather conditions have changed.”

Driver and team pushing car to start
Driver in cockpit
Cars on the starting line

Race 1

“Now it’s time to go racing. It’s what we’re here for. During the warm-up lap, as we all head to the grid, you have to accelerate then brake, again and again to warm-up the brakes and tyres.

“My qualifying session on the Saturday wasn’t great, so I started 17th, but the race was great and I finished 10th. The car is really good this year. The chassis is lighter and stiffer, which has improved the handling. Obviously it would be better to start further up the grid, but I really enjoy those races where you can fight from the back. The pressure is off and you can only improve your position. My plan was to overtake as quickly as possible. I study videos of past races as it’s amazing what that can teach you – you can see how drivers have overtaken on the first lap and after a safety car in previous races.

“But battling past other cars in race one meant I didn’t get a clear lap, which is a problem as in the current BTCC rules the fastest laps in race one determine the start positions for race two. The tyres are at their best for just three to four laps, so if you haven’t set a quick lap by lap three or four then their performance starts to drop off.

“After the race there’s no time to relax, as I have a few media interviews and a debrief with the team to find out if we need to make any changes for race two. We don’t change much, but grid position and weather can throw in a few variables.”

Spectators watching cars on track

Race 2

“Unfortunately, race two didn’t go well. It was a crazy opening lap. To begin with, having no clear lap in race two meant I started in 16th place, and there was a crazy opening lap. Cars were spinning across the track in front of me and I came into contact with one of them.

“Then, a few laps later, we had an issue with the car's differential, an important part of the rear axle. It was really disappointing, but these things happen when you’re racing. I radioed to the team in the pits. I talk to the team on the radio quite a lot during a race. I ask quite a few questions about what’s going on ahead of me and what the split times are between me and the car ahead or behind. Also, the team tell me if there are any crashes and if anyone has had a puncture. This time I called to say I was coming in to the pits to retire.

“The guys had a lot of work to do to fit a new differential before the final race. It’s a really complicated part to change. At a dealership that would take a number of hours, but on race day they had only about an hour. While they were at work I went to see the sponsors and guests again. I also made a few posts on social media, which is great to use throughout the weekend as I can let fans who aren’t at the track know what’s happening.”

Fans and flags
People watching screen

Race 3

“The finishing positions of race two determine the grid for the final race of the day. Because I retired in race two, I had to start at the back, in 23rd position. But the race was great fun and I finished 10th. I had a great first lap and made up around seven places. The car felt really good and it let me pull off some bold, gutsy overtaking moves. Thruxton is a very fast track, drivers have to respect each other when racing so close. You have to stay focused. There’s no point pulling off a great move and then throwing the car off at the next corner. That great move would then be pointless. You can’t think ‘Wow! That was awesome’. You have to clear your mind and get straight back into it.”

Driver and team back at garage

Heading home

“After the final race I’m always a little disappointed the racing is over. I give a few more media interviews, say goodbye to guests and help the team pack up. It feels odd as all the other teams pack up and the little BTCC town is dismantled around you."

Find out more about Tom at tom-ingram.com and the BTCC at btcc.net

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