Tears and cheers: how Chris Ingram ended 52-year wait for rally title

Chris Ingram was crestfallen as, sat alongside his co-driver Ross Whittock, they realised that after a gruelling six rounds and 220km across the Czech Republic, they had lost the final stage of the race, and the £100,000 prize for the junior competition of the European Rally Championship, by a whisker – 0.3 seconds. “It was the cruellest blow,’’ says Ingram. “At the stop line, we just sat in the car, absolutely devastated.”

For the 25-year-old British driver, who had been battling from round to round to secure funding after losing a key sponsor on the eve of the season, it seemed impossible to continue. Ingram was left with a £150,000 bill to compete in the series. “I was just lost for a few hours. I was crying my eyes out because I thought that was it, I thought that was the end.

“I worked every single day to try and get sponsors on board but it takes time to build relationships with sponsors when it comes to such huge amounts of money like that. Some people around me were saying we just have to pull out of the season. But for me, that was never an option. A year out at this stage could be the end of it. I always just thought: ‘How do I get the money?’ even if it is rally by rally.

“I was taking on debts and huge financial sacrifice just to get to each rally. It was a risk I made but the team helped. They turned up because they believed in me so much. I’ll be forever grateful to the team.”

Still leading the championship, he had to find the money to keep rallying. A crowd-funding page, set up by his mother, Jo, raised more than £17,000, with sponsors and private donations eventually hitting £40,000,and that allowed Ingram to race his Skoda Fabia in to the remaining rounds. However, the demands of the season were starting to take its toll.

“It’s very hard for people to understand and it was quite a lonely place. I knew that everyone was there for me but it was just a confusing situation. The amount the team manager [Serkan Duru] believed in me, invested in me and taken so much pressure on himself because of me, I had to pay him back.”

Making it to the last round in Hungary earlier this month, Ingram just needed a podium to win the ERC title. He was on course but then a puncture relegated him to fourth. However, luck was on his side as his rival, Aleksey Lukyanuk, suffered the same fate to drop from the lead into second, handing Ingram the title, the first time a British driver had won the ERC in 52 years.

“We were trying to calculate the points for 20 minutes, the most horrific 20 minutes of my life. My team were back at the service area and they calculated that we won, apparently my team manager just burst into tears. The most emotional and biggest relief of my life. I feel like everyone wanted us to win it. Even my rival’s co-driver said we are so happy you have won it.”

It was a happy ending for Chris, tempered by the fact the title comes without any prize money. “When it comes to the overall European championship there is no prize money because it is usually expected that a professional team or a manufacturing team would win and their promotion alone is enough to give the drivers a bonus.”

Following his victory, Ingram has been approached by the organisers of Extreme E, an off-road, all electric world championship due to start in 2021, but there is no guarantee of a drive. As for 2020, his diary remains blank.

“I just want to win titles. Win as many different titles as possible and do something no British driver has done. If I’ve not got a manufacturer in the next couple of years my chances are slim. I need to show my speed at World Championship level, to show sponsors and to also start paying back people who have supported me. My target is to win a world title. If an opportunity doesn’t arise, then there is something incredibly wrong.”


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