INGRAM: BACK TO THE FU­TURE

Works Opel ace be­gins with Manta drive at Race Retro. By Jack Benyon

Motor Sport News - - Brits At Opel - CV Photos: Paul Lawrence

Once a year, Stoneleigh Park is home to some of the great­est and most his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant cars in the his­tory of race and rally. The event – Race Retro – at­tracts thou­sands of spec­ta­tors ev­ery year and is a sta­ple on the his­toric calendar. But this year, a 21-year-old made his de­but in a car from be­fore his birth year. His name? Chris Ingram.

The Manch­ester ace spent last year as the fastest Peu­geot 208 R2 driver in the Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship Ju­nior cat­e­gory for the ma­jor­ity of the cam­paign, but strug­gled to match the pace of the mas­sive works Opel team on as­phalt. Now he has signed for Opel, join­ing the team he looked on with starry eyes in 2015.

When you be­come a works driver, it’s usual prac­tice that the first car you drive is the ma­chine you’ll be us­ing that year, in Chris’ case an Opel Adam R2. But not on this oc­ca­sion. In­stead, two rally win­ning ex-rus­sell Brookes Opel Man­tas from 1985 and 1987 were on hand for the ju­nior to drive. And two-time Bri­tish cham­pion Brookes was there to pro­vide some tips. It could well be one of the most en­joy­able rally de­buts in his­tory.

“I’ve only sat in the Adam in the garage,” ex­plains Ingram (af­ter Race Retro Ingram tested the car in March). “This [the Manta] is the first non-french rally car I’ve ever driven. It’s a pretty awe­some op­por­tu­nity to come and see what it was like for Opel in its most suc­cess­ful era. They have a mega her­itage, win­ning the UK cham­pi­onship with Jimmy Mcrae in 1981/82 and they won the world cham­pi­onship with Wal­ter Rohrl be­fore they won with the Manta a few years later. They’ve been quite quiet for a few years but they’re back now.”

Ingram will make his de­but in the Adam on the Cir­cuit of Ire­land this week­end, a rally Brookes won on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. The car we’re cur­rently sat in won the Ulster in 1985. Brookes proved he can still make it dance for the crowd as he gave Ingram an in­stal­la­tion lap.

“On dry Tar­mac it was ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing the Audi quat­tros that dom­i­nated the era,” ex­plains Brookes. “In the forests it didn’t have the trac­tion, but it was a great car and it was prob­a­bly the last and ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of rear­wheel-drive ral­ly­ing. It was cer­tainly one of my favourites. It was one of the last cars I ever drove with­out power steer­ing, and on some of the longer events it was a work­out. You cer­tainly knew about it af­ter you’d done a rally in this.”

Ingram and Brookes got to taste both ma­chines, the gravel car be­ing the only Manta to win a for­est rally ac­cord­ing to Brookes, tak­ing the Fram Fil­ters Welsh In­ter­na­tional in 1987.

“The car spent many years in Switzer­land and when the cur­rent owner bought it, it still had the tyres on that we used for the Welsh In­ter­na­tional,” says Brookes. “And a pack of [co-driver] Mike Broad’s fags in the door pocket!”

Speak­ing to Ingram, you can’t help but feel that the young­ster has em­braced the sig­nif­i­cance of the situation he’s in. Af­ter all, fol­low­ing the likes of Brookes, Jimmy Mcrae, David Llewellin and Mal­colm Wil­son may be too much for some. But he’s ap­proach­ing it with a steely vigour you ex­pect from a po­ten­tial cham­pion, and some­one you would ex­pect had more ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s hum­bling, this car is 10-15 years older than me,” he says. “You come here to a show like Race Retro and you see all the peo­ple in love with these clas­sic cars, and then you get the op­por­tu­nity to see and drive them, it’s easy to see why [the fans love them]. It’s mind-blow­ing how ral­ly­ing was back then.”

It’s not Ingram’s first taste of 1980s ral­ly­ing. He drove a Peu­geot 205 T16 at the same event the year be­fore, but is adamant about the Manta’s pace.

“I couldn’t get the power down in the T16 as the track is so tight,” he says. “This is more ac­ces­si­ble and just as quick around this track. I can throw this around and get the back end out.”

The Manta 400 is a world apart from Ingram’s new sad­dle, but even in the 90- de­gree an­gles of the Stoneleigh course, Ingram had the car on the limit al­most in­stantly. Chris’ fa­ther John – a rally win­ner in his own right – re­marks: “That’s what has al­ways im­pressed me about Chris. He’s got that abil­ity to get in any­thing and push it straight away.”

If you’ve watched any of Ingram’s on­board, you’ll know ex­actly what his dad is talk­ing about.

De­spite never hav­ing driven a rear­wheel-drive rally car be­fore, he got the rear danc­ing un­der his con­trol. The cir­cuit is mostly 90-de­gree cor­ners with short bursts up some short straights. But the car is still fish­tail­ing at the end of the straights. Ingram con­firms it isn’t short of power.

Such was the en­joy­ment from the pas­sen­ger seat that this co-driver had his foot on the but­ton of the horn, much to the de­light of the spec­ta­tors.

Out of the car and back to the leg­end, Ingram hasn’t es­caped Brookes’ at­ten­tion. He’s ex­pect­ing big things from the Opel’s new lead­ing light.

“He’s a good driver isn’t he?” says the veteran. “He’s com­ing along very well and that’s good to see. I hope he gets the breaks while he’s still young.”

It doesn’t get much bet­ter than praise of that kind from a dou­ble Bri­tish cham­pion. ■

Ingram took our man for a spin

Ingram tested Adam at the end of March af­ter his Manta out­ing

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