It was his first season behind the wheel of a four-wheel-drive rally car. Still, Chris Ingram managed to take his FABIA R5 to some noteworthy results. Even after he missed several rallies due to health problems, he placed 2nd in ERC Junior U28 series. And when he first tasted a World Rally Championship event, he capped the experience with a podium finish. It is obvious that the 24-year-old British driver and his unmistakable black ŠKODA FABIA R5 have a lot more to show us.
We asked Chris about his debut season with a ŠKODA car, his plans for the future and the story behind his career so far.
First of all, how long have you been rallying?
I have been rallying now for 7 years, since I was 17 years old driving a Twingo R2 which I prepared myself with some friends and family! I have taken it step-by-step through the ranks since those days and I hold some great memories along the way.
What are your ambitions in the rally world? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
My ambition is of course to reach the World Rally Championship as a professional driver. I would not sacrifice everything to chase this dream If I didn’t believe I had the driving ability. In five years I would hope to be in the WRC full time. Ten year’s is a little bit too far ahead of the plan! 😛
This was your first year with FABIA R5 and also first season in RC2. It seems it worked out well. Are you happy with your car? What made you choose it?
It is truly a dream come true to be competing in such a top car as the FABIA R5 on incredible World and European championship rallies which have such a high level of competition and prestige. I am just a young guy with no personal finance, just a huge passion and dream to rally so to finally have my chance this year to drive the FABIA R5 was truly epic and I enjoyed every minute driving that beast on many spectacular stages. I chose the FABIA R5 because It is obviously the leader in it’s class and it is a very reliable car, I had a strong desire to be in the ŠKODA because It is a package which I could trust wouldn’t let me down for my first season of four-wheel-drive.
Especially for Czech fans, the branding on your car may be a bit confusing, as 11° means a strength of beer for us. What does it really mean?
The irony is, I don’t drink alcohol myself so that wouldn’t suit me at all!!
11° is a British sports fashion brand, growing immensely and now spreading quickly across Europe, I think we will see 11 Degrees clothing in the Czech Republic very soon, maybe a top result on the 2019 Barum Rally would help!
This year in Turkey, you debuted in WRC 2 and went straight for the podium. What was most interesting about the experience?
Turkey was an eye-opening experience switching from ERC to WRC 2 competition. Everything was on another level in terms of the size of the event, the competition and also the publicity. Our sporting strategy was to learn on what was only my second ever gravel rally in a four-wheel-drive car. To be leading WRC 2 for over five of the stages was pretty crazy, and If it wasn’t for a second puncture we maybe could’ve cruised to victory which shows our strategy was clever and very nearly paid off. To get on the WRC 2 podium on what was one of the most difficult rallies of my life was a proud moment for myself and my co-driver Ross Whittock, our superb team Toksport WRT and everyone who had supported us up-to that day.
You were second in this years European U28 Junior Championship. What’s your focus for 2019? Are you staying in the same series?
Unfortunately near the beginning of the season I had a health problem for 2 months missing 3 rounds of the ERC. So despite this 2nd in the ERC U28 is a really good result for the first year and we are quite pleased with our development throughout the events. I am currently working hard to create an opportunity for us to move to WRC 2 but at the moment nothing is certain for the 2019 season. As we saw in Turkey, WRC2 is where we need to be to fight with the best drivers and learn the World Rally Championship events. Fingers crossed!
Being 24 years old, you are part of the generation that grew up with videogames. Did you play any rally classics? Did they influence you?
Haha yes indeed! I used to play quite a lot of Colin McRae DiRT and the WRC games – thankfully I am much better in real life, as I learnt when I started rallying my R2 car, there is no reset button in real life! I tend not to crash now 😀
The biggest influence for me was going to watch WRC Wales Rally GB as a kid, seeing the likes of McRae and Loeb on the stages. The most special and magic memories were supporting my father who rallied in UK national championships, I will cherish those memories forever.
When did you start thinking about getting into rallying?
My dad took me to watch a rally when I was 9, and from then on I was hooked.
I was very lucky that he initially helped me start out in a 1-litre Citroen C1 in Juniors, then into a Twingo, then It was up to me to show talent and find budget to continue onwards.
Was there any rally driver that was your role model when you was a kid?
Sebastien Loeb firstly, then Sebastien Ogier, he is great champion but also a very genuine nice guy. (see photo)
You took your FABIA R5 to Goodwood Rally Stage this year. How does it feel to drive there among some of the most legendary rally cars?
Goodwood is always one of the most enjoyable events of the season as the atmosphere is very, very special and we get the opportunity to mix with some iconic cars and drivers. It was awesome to drive the FABIA R5 there, which suited the narrow stage very well, I think we were 3rd on the times just behind Seb Ogier and Mads Ostberg but ahead of many other WRC cars. (Sorry I am always competitive 😉 )
We know that a rally driver has to stay fit. What do you do to keep in shape? Any special diet or exercise?
I have a strict diet and fitness regime which I try to improve all the time. I enjoy cycling and am getting into various different sports at the moment. I have always been strict with myself in the sense that I’ve never wanted to drink alcohol.
What did you do to celebrate this years successes?
Sorry to say but I didn’t have chance to celebrate just yet, maybe I can when 2019 is secure!
I feel like 2019 is Part 2, not chapter 2 so we will celebrate after winning a title in 2019 😉
You’ve been driving with your co-driver, Ross Whittock, for something over a year now. What’s your relationship – are you more of a colleagues or did you become friends? Do you spend any time together outside rally?
Ross is a very special guy and I can’t think of anyone I’d want to share the journey with now. He had very little rally experience when I decided to give him the chance, but the perfect personality characteristics of a co-driver in my opinion, so It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. He is one of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met, and although we are quite the opposite this balances out well in the rally car and we are becoming a stronger and stronger crew.
How do you celebrate victories together, if you do it at all?
We don’t celebrate enough!! It has been a very busy year and we’ve always been travelling straight home or to another event.
What kind of driver are you on the road? Does your passion for speed translate into normal driving, or is it the opposite?
I am actually very slow and chilled out on the road, like my character when I’m not behind the wheel of a rally car!! I don’t get any road-rage. I think driving an Octavia RS helps with that as its such a smooth and enjoyable car to razz around in.
What was the most difficult moment of this season for you?
On only my second event in Gran Canaria, I was ill in hospital the night before the rally, but discharged myself in order to start for my team and sponsors, not really knowing how ill I was. After stage 2 I was simply far too unwell to concentrate so we had to stop, and I flew straight home to hospital in the UK. My health got worse and I was ill for over 2 months which was very frustrating after such a good start winning the first round of the U28’s in the Azores. It was one of the most difficult times in my life as we couldn’t find out the problem for a long time, and it affected our championship hopes.
And, on the other hand, what was the best one?
It’s difficult to choose between the first rally in the FABIA in the Azores, such a strong start, and the WRC 2 debut podium in Turkey. I’ll probably go with Turkey because It felt like a win to get a top 10 in the WRC and it was an immense challenge on those brutal rough and hot stages.
How old were you when you first drove a car?
I was 14 driving an old Mini in fields, I think Kalle Rovenpera had probably started driving way before then!!
Are you a full-time rally driver, or do you have another job as well? If so, what is it?
I would say a full-time driver manager of myself! Unfortunately I don’t actually do enough rally driving, but huge amount of work to make it happen and create opportunities for myself to chase my WRC dreams. The end game is to one day have a fully supported drive so that I can focus 100% on my driving and competition.
What will be the first rally of your 2019 season?
I honestly don’t know yet. I am free for Rallye Monte Carlo 🙂