2010 Ginetta Junior Champion Tom Ingram once again showed why he's considered one of the brightest young drivers in British Motorsport after a strong performance in Racing Steps Foundation's search for the stars of the future.
Every year the not-for-profit foundation try to help the careers of the best, under-funded young drivers in the country, helping fund them for a season or two to help them achieve their potential. In 2010, these special scholarships helped the likes of James Calado, Oliver Turvey and Jack Harvey.
Initially they produced a short-list of the dozen brightest talents in the country, with Tom delighted to be one of them:
“To be nominated for something like Racing Steps is a massive endorsement,” enthused the High Wycombe racer. “It shows people have obviously noticed what I'm doing – and to find out I had reached the short-list was brilliant!”
Under the watchful eye of John Surtees, the only man to have taken World Championships on both two and four wheels, Ingram took part in the first round of tests, which involved a series of psychometric tests, an in-depth interview and a session on a simulator. Despite feeling he hadn't done enough, Ingram had impressed the panel enough to get through to the final four.
The final four were subjected to a fitness test at the Porsche Human Performance Centre at Silverstone, to look at their strength and stamina, before embarking on the most important part of all, the driving test. At Rockingham, each finalist went out on track in a Fortec Motorsport prepared Formula Renault UK car. It took 17 year old Ingram some time to adapt to:
“I had to get used to how to drive it, because it's very different from the Ginetta,” he explained. “Apart from a handful of laps in an Autosport Young Guns car, I had never done anything in a single-seater before, and to have someone assessing everything you are doing does put a little bit of pressure on.
“To go out in a Formula Renault for the first time in a situation where you are being watched right from the first lap is very difficult – you know you can't push as much as you normally would, because you can't afford to make any mistakes – but ultimately, you've just got to get out there and do it.
“The aerodynamic downforce in particular was a really strange feeling – you can brake a lot later than you expect, and can be really aggressive with the car because it can handle it. It's an unusual sensation to begin with that the quicker you go into a corner the more grip you will have – you can really throw it in and it just sticks. I've never driven a car with that much grip before and it took me half of the day I'd say to really get used to it, but once I did, I really enjoyed driving it!”
The former British Karting Champion and his fellow finalists performed well throughout, with the RSF judges having to take an extra couple of days to make their very tough decision. In the end, Tom narrowly missed out on the scholarship, but recognised his achievement of getting as far as he did.
“Even though I didn't get picked in the end, the whole experience was really worthwhile and has helped to make me a better driver,” he concluded. “It gave me some good pointers as to where I can improve, so it was really beneficial in that respect. I'd like to thank RSF founder Graham Sharp and the foundation's Derek Walters for giving me the opportunity, as well its ambassador John Surtees, Fortec boss Richard Dutton and 'Mr. Karting' Martin Hines for the time they devoted to assessing me and the other drivers.”
An impressed Walters added: “Tom is a promising young British driver, but on this occasion he was up against drivers with more experience of single-seaters which left him at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, he acquitted himself well and should feel proud of his performance, and we wish him well.
“Since that shoot-out, he's gone on to showcase his talent in a British Touring Car test, too, where he demonstrated his commitment and pace in a more familiar seat. On the basis of these performances, he's certainly one to watch out for in the not-too-distant future.”