Ever since Chris Ingram became European Rally champion four years ago now, he’s had a question hanging over his head.
How fast is he?
Throughout his championship-winning season, Ingram – aware that any accident would likely end his career, not just his title bid – didn’t win a single event.
But going toe to toe with nine-time World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb and well renowned asphalt driver Stéphane Lefebvre on last weekend’s Rallye National Charlemagne was the clearest proof yet that Ingram’s got some real speed in him.
Driving a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, Ingram and new co-driver Alex Kihurani finished third – just 16.8 seconds down on Loeb and a mere 0.9s shy of Lefebvre’s Citroën.
“We were within a second of him [Loeb] on the majority of the stages, we were right there,” Ingram told DirtFish.
“Twelve years ago I was filming Loeb at Wales Rally GB and posting videos on YouTube of his driving. To then have him ask us for our time at the end of stages was surreal! Just to be discussing tires and technique with him was very cool.
“When I heard that he entered the rally and the organizers offered me some support I thought that’s a hell of an opportunity to compete against him and in the same kind of car, and Stéphane Lefebvre is usually unbeatable in that region too.
“To be stood there on the podium with him with Alex alongside me, that was what it was all about.”
Ingram had shown similar promise earlier in the year when he finished second to works M-Sport driver Adrien Fourmaux on Ypres Rally.
But Ypres was an event Ingram had done six times before (and he led after the first stage in WRC2 last year) so it was, to an extent, expected.
Running with Loeb and Lefebvre on their home patch, and with compromised preparation, firmly banged the drum Ingram’s been trying to drum for years.
“I know that I can do it, so it’s nice that everyone underestimates me,” he said. “The team I was with didn’t think we would be anywhere near.
“We had a mechanical issue on shakedown so we didn’t get to do a proper run. We didn’t have time to change to my preferred setup before the event, so I just had to go into the first stage and trust myself.
“On the first corner we had a massive slide but I just had to believe and keep pushing whilst keeping it on the road.
“I believe with smoother preparation we could’ve challenged Loeb even more closely. I only knew last week that I was able to do the rally.”
I’d love the chance to show my full potential with a committed team and manufacturerChris Ingram
Ingram had hoped to make his first World Rally Championship start since Monte Carlo at the all-new Central European Rally later this month, but has opted against it in order to save budget for next season.
The 29-year-old’s plan is to secure a WRC2 drive with manufacturer backing.
“The plan for the last few months has been to get ready for next year – both to get my performance up to the top level and to get the right deal in place,” Ingram explained.
“I’m focusing on getting a deal in place now, but unfortunately we’re not doing Central Europe because the cost is so high – I would rather put that budget towards ensuring I can do a full campaign next year.
“I’d love the chance to show my full potential with a committed team and manufacturer. With some testing and a fuller calendar, I will show my speed and that I deserve a chance.
“Results like last weekend I hope will help, and I know I can do much more.”
Ingram latest star name to enter RAC Rally
Following the announcements of Oliver Solberg and Kris Meeke, Chris Ingram has become the latest international driver to be confirmed on the entry list of Britain’s Roger Albert Clark Rally.
Running from November 23-27, the RAC is one of the most prominent historic events in the world, including 350 miles of stages in Wales, Scotland and England.
Ingram will go against the mould in not driving a Ford Escort Mk2, instead steering a Triumph TR7 built by David Appleby Engineering.
“It will be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Ingram said.
“Everyone’s raving about how the rally is just like the old days and it will be five full days on legendary stages in a legendary car.
“It will be so much fun and a hell of a challenge. I’ve never done a rally in a historic car so it will be brilliant. We’ve got to go and try to win it!”