GOING DEEPER: with CHRIS INGRAM
GOING DEEPER presents Manchester-based, European Champion rally driver, Chris Ingram.
Chris Ingram has the world at his feet. After gaining his love for rally driving from a child, his obsession with the sport has continued to grow. The trials and tribulations of his relationship with racing haven't been a smooth drive, however.
Funding continues to be a problem for all up-and-coming drivers across the globe as corporate politics still dominate under money-hungry motives. This hasn't stopped Chris from achieving greatness, though. His recent success has seen him take British rally driving to a new space; becoming the first British European champion in 52 years, in 2019. We wanted to know what it takes to achieve ultimate greatness, to be one of the best in the world at something.
BODA SKINS caught up with Chris over Zoom to hear his story and inspirations.
BODA SKINS: Chris, the last year has been a difficult time for everyone. But for you personally, how have you been?
CHRIS: So difficult, for me personally, just before COVID, I won the European Rally Championship. So I felt like my life and career was about to take off after so many years of fighting and struggling. Then COVID hit and it killed all of my momentum.
It was hard not to be a bit lost in that situation, so yeah, I think it hit me pretty hard to be honest. Aside from not being able to compete, my day to day life hasn’t changed that much. Usually at the weekend I am training, rather than drinking with my mates! My racing simulator at home has been my saviour during lockdown.
I started an online rally championship, and almost 10,000 people entered it. It was amazing, I was in the top 10 - I was buzzing about that. This young lad won, who’s from the Czech Republic, he must’ve been about 17, and if I had the money, I would give this kid a chance because the driving on the game was just unbelievable.
"“Some day I want to help young drivers who are in a similar position to me. I had my team and family, but within the sport, it’s brutal.”"
As a young boy growing up and admiring the sport, you have literally gone from being a spectator to one of the best in the world. Talk us through your European Championship victory - it must have felt like a dream, right?
It’s been an amazing journey already but this is still only the beginning. I first competed in the European Championship in a tiny Renault Twingo. My dad and some mates helped me prepare and fix it in between races, whilst we were competing against some really professional teams. I was leading my class at the Irish Rally and everyone was blown away by this tiny car going so fast. My confidence was building and building and I felt like I was flying this car rather than driving. On the 13th stage I barrel-rolled and ripped all 4 wheels and the engine out of the car completely destroying it. Weirdly my dad actually was watching on the same corner and was the first spectator to help me climb out of the up-side-down car.
I was plea-ing for the fans to help us flip the car over so we could continue in the rally, until I turned around to see the car was just in bits all over the road. My co-driver and I were quite lucky not to come out of it injured. After that, I thought that was the end of my rally driving! I’d destroyed my car, we had no sponsorship, I thought my dream was over. A few months later I received a call from a manufacturer team, and secured three seasons fully funded by Peugeot UK, Opel and Vauxhall, and I went on to become European Junior Champion.
This meant I could move up to four-wheel drive rally cars worth way over £200,000. My first year with four-wheel drive was really successful, but at the end of the year, our title sponsor pulled out, so I was in the same position again - I had no way to continue! Thankfully with the support of another sponsor Car Finance 247 and a private race-team called Toksport, we were able to keep going into the next season. We ended up finding ourselves in the position that we were leading the European Championship with two rounds to go, and should I win, I would become the first Brit in 52 to win the European Rally Championship. I had no money left at all and couldn’t even put fuel in my car.
My mum set up a crowdfunding page - which raised around £30,000 to get to these last two rallies and I’ll be forever grateful to the 350 people who chipped in and had their name on my car for the last round of the championship. I had a healthy championship lead going into the final round, so all I had to do was finish on the podium for the last race. I was comfortably sitting in second or third position throughout the first few days of the rally, until on the very last stage - bearing in mind there’s 124 stages in the whole championship - I got a puncture and I dropped from third to fourth.
Dramatically my rival for the championship, actually got a puncture as well, which meant we were stood in the middle of nowhere in a forest in Hungary in the middle of a thunderstorm, and nobody knew who had won the championship for what felt like forever. This championship is ran by the FIA, the same organisation which run Formula 1 and even they didn’t know. There were so many points that had to be calculated. Finally, we got the word through that we’d won and it was the most insane moment. Everyone was crying! I was beside myself because it was something I had worked toward for my whole life, even the TV presenter was crying. As a sporting moment, it was incredible!
So, following your successes on the European stage, what comes next?
How did your family help with raising funds during the earlier stages of your career?
Why do you think that Rally Driving is so difficult to dominate when you have raw talent like yourself?
Simply because funding is a huge factor in Motorsport. There are people who are competing, whose dads are multi millionaires and it’s simply a hobby to them.
I believe that it should be more of a pure sport, and the FIA (Governing body of Motorsport) should bring the costs down, and only the best drivers should be able to drive at the top levels. You can't pay to play for Manchester City or United, so why should motorsport be so different at the top levels?
You say growing the sport is something you are extremely passionate about. How important are cross-collaborations for you?
Cross-collaborations are so important for me. Rallying isn’t a big sport here in the UK, it’s massive in Portugal and Spain and Eastern Europe. But, it’s so important for me to try and grow my profile and grow the sport in the UK as Colin McRae did. Since Colin McRae and Richard Burns, there’s not been a British driver who has brought any major publicity to the sport.
My dream is to become World Champion and by winning it, the sport would get so much more coverage and grow in the UK.
I am carving my own path which is easier said than done.
Hopefully, more publicity like this can make me stand out… Maybe I should go on Love Island or something! [laughs] That’s the easiest way to get a big profile, isn’t it?
What is next on the agenda for you, how do you intend to grow as both an athlete and as a person?
Who is your biggest inspiration, Chris?