Ingram took the second of the day’s three races and then a consistent sixth place for his Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis in race three propelled him to the top of the points when race winner Gordon Shedden’s Honda Civic Type R was excluded for failing the ride height test.
Possibly leaving Donington Park the happiest, however, was Aiden Moffat, taking his and the Laser Motorsport Mercedes team’s first-ever BTCC win in the opening race.
Race one – debutant delight
The front of the race one grid had an unusual look, headed by the Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis of Rob Austin. On form all weekend, Austin had profited when fastest qualifier Ashley Sutton’s Subaru was sent to the back with a turbo infringement.
Austin led away with fellow front-row starter Jack Goff’s Eurotech Honda Civic, but fastest starting of all was championship leader Tom Ingram in third, and his Speedworks Toyota Avensis ran into the back of Austin, sending the car sideways enough for Ingram to snatch the lead.
Goff was soon side-swiped down the order by the Dynamics Honda of Gordon Shedden and Aidan Moffat’s Laser Tools Mercedes A-Class slipped into third, which soon became second as he found a way past Austin.
Up front Ingram began to regret his decision to start on the harder compound option tyre, mandatory for at least one of the three races. The Mercedes closed in rapidly and took the lead with a brave move at the dipping high-speed Craner Curves.
Ingram quickly slipped back, losing second to Austin and then Matt Neal’s Dynamics Honda. These two fought hard over the runner-up spot, with Colin Turkington’s BMW 125i Sport becoming involved as well, Neal eventually coming out ahead.
All of which helped the Mercedes to pull out a 1.5-second gap by the flag, a delighted Moffat scoring his first victory at its 97th attempt and also the team’s first win in the BTCC.
Race two – Toyota does the double
Moffat had the double disadvantage of 75kg of success ballast and the option tyre starting race 2. The Mercedes got away in the lead as second starter Austin was mobbed by the BMWs of Turkington and team-mate Rob Collard. Forced out wide the Austin Toyota dropped down the field.
A four-car battle for the lead soon became a nine-car one, and once Ingram forced his way to the front he was able to pull away to become the first driver to win a second race win 2017. His Toyota’s progress was aided by Moffat’s defensive driving behind, the Mercedes holding up a pack of cars for several laps before eventually slipping back to a 14th-place finish.
Collard chased after Ingram, but the BMW then came under rpessure from first a fired-up Josh Cook in the Team Parker Ford Focus, and then Ashley Sutton’s Subaru, which had fought its way up from 13th on the grid.
The Subaru dived inside the BMW on the final lap, but was forced to duck back in by yellow flags wanting of the stranded Honda of Matt Simpson on the exit of the final corner. The Levorg took the final podium spot and brought some joy to a Bar Subaru team enjoying precious little success so far in 2017.
Cook was a very impressive fourth, followed by Turkington and the Dynamics Hondas of Shedden and Neal, reigning champion Shedden having looked good for a higher finish until running very wide at Coppice corner. Even more impressive was Tom Chilton, who took his Power Maxed Vauxhall Astra from 28th on the grid to 10th at the flag.
Race three – rain check
The grid draw for the third and final race reversed the positions of the first eight cars, putting the BTC Norlin Racing Chevrolet Cruze of Dave Newsham on pole position, with Matt Neal’s Honda alongside. A delayed programme due to a supporting race crash resulted in heavy rain falling just before the start, prompting the field to switch to wet tyres. And the first attempt at the race lasted only half a lap as several cars went off on the rivers of water running across the circuit, including many of the front runners.
After a half-hour delay during which the rain stopped and the track dried out slightly, the race was restarted, with Newsham alone on the front row. Neal, beached in the gravel in the first start, had been excluded for receiving outside assistance.
The Chevrolet duly led with Turkington’s BMW into second, while a clash at the back of the filed again paused the action with a one-lap safety car period. As the safety car pulled off Newsham held Turkington away while Shedden’s Honda quickly disposed of Cook for third, the Focus then slipping back to an eventual eighth place.
Shedden quickly disposed of Turkington at the chicane, the Honda displaying its wet-weather prowess, and with five laps down was able to slip past Newsham into the lead. As the Honda pulled away to an eventual 4.5-second win, Newsham came under pressure from Turkington, the BMW going past on lap nine, and then the fired-up Sutton in the Subaru.
With 15 laps down Sutton muscled his way into third, with Adam Morgan’s Mercedes looking to follow through, only for Newsham to surprise with a daring retaking of third spot starting the last lap. Towards the last corner the three were side by side, Morgan emerging in front to snatch the last podium spot from Sutton and the disappointed Newsham.
This dramatic day had one more surprise to serve up, however. Shedden’s Honda failed the mandatory end-of-race ride height check, the team suspecting due to damage sustained before the red flag. The reigning champion was presented as winner on the podium, but later excluded, in the process losing a four-point championship lead over Ingram.
The Speedworks Toyota driver now takes a 14-point advantage over Turkington’s BMW to the next meeting, at Thruxton in Hampshire on 7th May.