Russ Thompson gave his 2016 rally season a major boost last weekend, with a win on the Nicky Grist Stages that strengthened his title challenges in the BTRDA Production Cup and Group N championship.
Thompson came into the event in need of a strong result, after a retirement from the DMACK Carlisle Stages in June allowed rival Andy Davies to take the lead in both tables, and was prepared for a tough battle on the event’s eight stages.
Living up to the pre-rally billing, the pair were separated by just 0.2 seconds after the 22 miles that made up the morning’s loop, as they traded fastest times in class throughout and dueled in tricky conditions.
With wind, rain and fog all adding to the challenge, Davies took the early initiative and established a three-second lead after Crychan and Halfway, before Thompson fought back and reduced the gap with strong runs through Route 60 and Monument.
Following main service over lunch, Thompson had the gauntlet thrown back to him by Davies, as the Lampeter-based Impreza driver improved on his morning time through Crychan by a second to regain some of his lost advantage.
Expecting his rival to remain strong in those tests, the reigning Ground N champion had set himself up to fight back where he held the advantage at the end of the day, but the battle didn’t make it that far.
Matching each other through stage five with less than a second between them at the mid-point, a ball joint failure on Davies Impreza put him into retirement and Thompson into a comfortable class lead.
Sitting fourth overall on the event leader board, Thompson resisted the urge to push for an overall podium and carefully guided his Dunnow Plant backed Mitsubishi safely home, 29 seconds ahead of his nearest Group N rival and to his highest-ever overall finish in the BTRDA series.
His third win of the season sets the 28-year-old up well for the final two rounds of the seasons, with a win and a fourth place enough to take both championships.
Thompson said: “There were some very difficult conditions out on the stages, with the weather making things very slippery, but the car was responding well and giving enough confidence to push and fight with Andy.
“It wasn’t giving me that level of trust on the last couple of rallies, but with the car as it is now, I’m feeling very comfortable and that is letting me drive the best I ever have.
“We’ve now got a bit of a break until the last two rounds of the championship, and we’ll be using that time to make sure the car is in perfect condition for them.”
Thompson is next in action on the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages around Ludlow, on Saturday, September 3rd.