The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.
If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.
Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”
Let’s hear from Chris.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.
“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.
“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”
” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?
“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”
Why are you worthy of this chance?
“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”
You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?
“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”
What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?
“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”
I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.
At Autosport International Show last month, I sat down with Chris Ingram, the first British winner of the European Rally Championship for over fifty years.
This is what the rising British star had to say.
Describe your journey in rallying so far. How did that even start?
My dad was passionate rally driver in the eighties, he did road rallies and when he made a bit of money with his business in the early 2000’s he got back into it and rallied in the UK national championships, performing in world rally cars. He took me to watch a rally in Yorkshire and I just fell in love with the sport as a ten-year-old kid. It was my life from then. All day at school, I was drawing pictures of rally cars, and getting told off. Every single story I had to write was about rallying, Colin McRae or whatever.
That’s how it started, and then as I got into my teenage years I really wanted to get behind the wheel, and to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations of doing anything, I just loved the sport. It wasn’t like I was a spoilt kid, but my dad helped me start in the Junior 1000 championship in 1.0 litre cars for drivers between the age of 14 and 17. I had a Citroen C1. We pretty much built that ourselves in our shed. It was basically a road car with a rollcage. We did that championship and ran the car ourselves and won it, and then entered the British Championship. Unfortunately, my dad had some tough times in his business, so I had to go on my own and find sponsors but that all worked out by the skin of its teeth. It was 2012 was when I started, when I was seventeen. When I was nineteen, I got the chance with Renault Sport to drive in the European Rally Championship, with some great backing from them to drive a Twingo R2, which is the first year of the ERC Junior Championship, I crashed the car on the circuit of Ireland, but I was lying eight overall, plus tenth overall against R5 cars, I got awarded the Colin McRae Trophy. That was the first time that I’d shown proper top-class pace.
Who was sitting alongside you?
Gabin Moreau, a French Co-Driver sat alongside, but early on, Michael Gilbey, who still rallying now. I changed my co-driver quite a lot in the early days. Like I said, when I won the Colin McRae Award, the doors opened up to Peugeot and I got a fully funded drive with them for two years in the same class, RT two-wheel drive, and that led to a fully funded drive with Opel Motorsport which was a massive opportunity, a proper German team. Working with those guys, both my speed a professionalism came on a lot, both inside and outside the car because I had to deliver for them, or it was game over, and then I won the Junior Championship with them in 2017, and that was when I was put back on my own. I had to move to R5, but there were no works drives, for someone my age, with no experience – No experience with R5 or WRC events, but I was very lucky to find a great team called Tok Sport who were based in the Nurburgring and they were really good and invested a lot in me, really believed in me.
They’d seen me in Rally GB when I competed in the Adam R2. In the dark and fog I was in the top five in WRC2 against twenty R5 cars, we were beating half of them at the end of Saturday. Set a couple of mad stage times, which caught their attention and they helped me compete in R5 to this day and same again in 2019 but I lost my main sponsor a week before the first rally but they believed in me that much, they helped as much as they can, rally by rally I had to find as much sponsorship as I could and made it through with crowdfunding on the last event where we raised £20,000 from rally fans who were all chipping in, which was unbelievable, and then to win the title on the very last stage of the last round to pay them all back was just the sweetest moment.
What was the points gap at the end?
It was nine points, but basically it was head to head with Alexey Lukyanuk the reigning champion going into the last rally. He had to win and me finish less than third. I was comfortably in second, he was leading, I got a puncture and dropped to third. I thought that’s okay, I’ve a minute and thirty second gap behind. We come to the last stage, it’s horrific weather is dark, there’s fog, it’s muddy, half the stages are on gravel with slicks, and a twenty-seven long stage to finish the rally, and I got a puncture halfway through and I thought, do I change this puncture, as it’s going to cost me at least a minute thirty to change because it’s dark and raining.
I don’t think I could have ever changed it in a minute and thirty if it was the best tyre change of my life, so I decided to carry on through to the end and we lost between and minute thirty and forty, but we’d actually stayed ahead of whoever was in fourth, a driver called Callum Devine was fifth and he’d had an amazing run and taken two minutes out of me, and he jumped onto the podium and I dropped to fourth. I realised this at the end of the stage, Chris Ross BRC radio saying you’ve lost the championship. I didn’t wait and we drove about 100 metres down the road to change the puncture and then a photographer came running down the road because Alexey Lukyanuk was running behind me as it was reverse order on the last stage of the rally and the photographer said Alexey Lukyanuk has had a puncture too and he’d dropped to second meaning that we’d won the title, so if he’d not got the puncture, he would have won the title by a point, but had a puncture and handed us the title. Plus, if we’d not got a puncture then we’d have won the rally, so it was just mad. A mental finish.
What was your favourite event from the championship?
Hungary was a horrible rally, in terms of tricky conditions, dangerous stages, but that’s one round I’ll never forget, so obviously that’s the highlight, but my favourite is the Azores, which is the most spectacular rally in the world. One of the stages runs along the volcano ridge, which means one side is a 500 metre drop into a lake and the other side is a 500 metre drop into the sea, it’s just spectacular. Just the most incredible in my opinion. That’s probably the best one.
What do you do to relax? Do you relax?
It’s hard. I find it hard to relax, because as soon as I won the championship, now I’ve got to find money for next year. So, I had a bit of time with my girlfriend over Christmas to try and chill out, but it’s very hard to, because this is everything to me. It’s not just my passion and dream that I’ll never give up on, if I wasn’t a rally driver, I’d have to reinvent myself and do something else as a job, so it’s everything.
In your mind, that’s harder, as you’ve got through these last ten years.
Yes, exactly and we’ve got so far that we’ve got to keep going now. I need to find the backing and support from British fans, that’s what we need to do now.
That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you, as feel that you’re a bit under the radar, and I’d become aware of you over the years.
Okay, if you could drive a world rally car from the past, right the way back to the early days in the championship, all those exotic cars in the Group ‘B’ and Group ‘A’ era, right up to the current types of car, which one would you pick?
Long pause from Chris as he pondered this question….
There’s some great cars and I think I’d struggle to answer this.
There are obviously the classic and legendary cars like the Quattro. I’ve been lucky enough to drive the 205 T16 Group ‘B’ car, which was an unbelievable experience.
Where did you drive that, and describe the experience?
At Race Retro three or four years ago. It was completely raw, you could feel everything that car was doing, and it was an absolute animal and you had to manhandle it, to get it round this tight stage that they’d set up, just the hardest work. I’m lucky that I get to work with Tuthill Porsche and with the old 911’s in Sweden. They own these classic legendary rally cars and they offer this completely unique experience, whereas probably most R5 cars are pretty similar to drive to be honest. But I’d still you know, like to drive a modern WRC machine like the Yaris, if I was to choose, I’d go with the latest spec car to be honest. If it had to be retro, maybe the Quattro, because it’s just so iconic, isn’t it, and I’ve driven the 205 anyway.
I drove Russell Brookes’ old Opel Manta, which is an honour, because he’s an absolute legend. That was an amazing opportunity as well. Much easier to drive the 205, but still harder than today’s cars. The difference is that back then, it was much more about car control, now you have to be more relaxed, you can’t drive these cars aggressively. You have to know the car and let the car do the work, and as long as you’re good at carrying speed, it’s all about technique. Turn in once, braking once, minimal inputs that’s the only way to drive, and very smooth.
Going from the Opel Adam, front wheel-drive and moving to something that’s got four-wheel drive like the Skoda, just explain how you adapted your style?
To be honest, the first time that I drove the R5 car it was easy, jumping out of the two-wheel drive which you had to wring its neck, when I got into the Skoda R5, I was like a PlayStation, it was unbelievably easy, which is crazy, isn’t it? This year I started to get too stressed because of all the pressure, and because of all of that and anxiety, not knowing if I was going to be able to carry on, I didn’t realise it at the time, but I brought that into my driving and I was tense and it started to become hard work again, physically difficult to feel the car because of all those things, I just wasn’t relaxed. The last few rallies, I got it back, and able to relax and it just flows so much easier when you’re relaxed, it’s mad how it works.
What are your hopes for this season?
To compete in a full season of WRC2, to find the funding and the target is always to win. There would be a lot of learning in the first year of WRC. I’d be competing against guys who’d done it several times, but we’d be doing everything to win, because if we can win the ERC and WRC back to back, which no-one’s ever done, then we can’t be ignored by the top teams. That’s the goal. The top teams are Toyota and Hyundai, and then M-Sport, they’ve probably got one works driver and then the other drivers are paying for their seats, so realistically Hyundai and Toyota. It’s a small market, but we need to give it everything.
What’s your thoughts on Seb Loeb still competing?
He’s a legend, and I can understand it from a manufacturer point of view, and there’s some other drivers which, they’ve had their chance dozens of times and they’ve not won, so hopefully more young talent will get a chance, and just because they’ve got big backing behind them, just raw talent. Streaming could be a good opportunity for me, if they’re keen to get young talent on board, not just names from the past. That’s the battle I’m having constantly, competing against guys that have been involved for so long, everyone knows who they are, so it’s very difficult, very hard.
Well, a big thank you to Chris for his time. One of many things that came across was his passion and drive to make it to the top of his chosen sport. I for one hope that he gets his opportunity and soon. It would be a crying shame if it did not happen.