In an interview with The Checkered Flag, newly crowned FIA European Rally Champion Chris Ingram says he’s “extremely proud” of becoming the first British winner of the series in 52 years.
Ingram and co-driver Ross Whittock survived an incredible final day on Rally Hungary that saw several huge twists and turns as the pair went on to win the ERC championship after rival Alexey Lukyanuk suffered a puncture on the very last stage that dropped him to second on the rally and give Ingram the title.
He said on his historic victory: “Even just hearing the words that I’m European champion and watching the footage back gives me goosebumps. I’m extremely proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to achieve this. To follow Vic Elford is an incredible accolade.”
He went on to talk us through his emotions throughout that incredible final day and explained: “We knew if Alexey won the rally, a podium would be sufficient for us to win the title by a single point and going into the last stage, I was nervous yet incredibly focused to get the job done. It was a huge one at 27.5km and by the time we reached the start, it was dark and we had torrential rain, patchy fog and the fact we needed to complete a 14km gravel section on tarmac tyres to deal with too!”
“I drove the slowest I’ve ever driven on that stage and we still managed to pick up a puncture with 14 or 15km to go. In the first run through we’d already picked up a puncture and lost two minutes, so I knew it was not an option to stop and change the tyre.”
“We had no choice but to continue as fast as possible and hope the other drivers would slow down due to the conditions. We finished that stage just a minute down on rally winner Frigyes but Callum Devine behind us had taken a further minute out of everyone and pushed us down to fourth overall, meaning we’d seemingly lost the title.”
“We then thought for the next ten minutes we’d lost the title and when me and Ross were changing the flat tyre before returning to service a photographer and TV crew came running down the road telling us that Lukunyuk had also suffered a puncture.”
“News slowly filtered though that he’d slipped to second and everyone was trying to calculate whether or not we had won the championship. Eventually the FIA confirmed we had done it and it was the biggest relief and best feeling of my life!”
Ingram has a had a rather incredible 2019 and at one point serious doubts were raised about whether he would be able to complete the season at all due to budgetary issues, but thanks to a crowd-funding campaign set up by his family and team, he went on to win the title and he spoke of how grateful he was for everyone’s support:
“Thank you does not even come close to expressing how I feel to everyone who has helped me to get here. I am eternally grateful, and I will continue to give it everything to go as far as possible and continue to make everyone proud. We hope to hold some special events next season for our supporters, depending on what we do.”
He also singled out his co-driver Whittock for helping him achieve the status of European Rally champion and added: “Ross is an enormous asset to me – firstly winning the Junior title and now the overall title this year.”
“In my opinion he is the ultimate co-driver and in the car together and on the stages the symphony between us in magic. We both believe we can go all the way with the correct support and opportunity, there is no better young team than us.”
Throughout 2019, Ingram had been a season long battle at the top of the ERC standings and he went on to explain just where he thought the season moved in his favour: “After the Barum event I turned a corner as I realised I had been putting too much pressure on myself and it was affecting my driving immensely.”
“A couple of other events to make a difference were Cyprus, where our strategy to drive carefully and survive the rough stages worked perfectly with us finishing second and building a massive championship lead with nineteen points. Hungary too was great because I controlled the rally almost perfectly despite two unlucky punctures on a gravel section.”
The Brit was also about his future and whether a move onto the world stage was a possibility next season. He admitted: “I’m working incredibly hard on a move to the WRC and securing further investment. I want to win my first title in the WRC support categories to prove our potential at WRC level. To we win the ERC and WRC2 back to back would be massive for me!”
“To be honest, I haven’t had much of a chance to take a step back yet. What I can say is this title win is on another level and is now only now starting to sink in. Attending the FIA awards alongside Lewis Hamilton will probably hit home just what we’ve achieved this year!”
“It means so much more to have made all of our sponsors and supporters proud, along with all the contributors, which it really wouldn’t have been possible without, we all won this together and it’s probably a first in international motorsport.”
Ingram won the championship thanks to a string of consistent results where he took four podium finishes out of seven events that he entered across Europe.