Russ Thompson put in a battling drive on his way to third in Group N on this year’s Malcolm Wilson Rally, but came away from the forests of Cumbria hugely disappointed not to have taken a win.
The defending BTRDA Production Cup champion came home following 40 competitive miles just five seconds from top spot and, having lost over 20 with a puncture on the day’s second stage, had salvaged a good haul of points.
However, Thompson came away ruing decision not to run fresh tyres during the stages through Grizedale forest as his fightback fell short.
Starting the day with a respectable run through the day’s first test that put him second in class and just three seconds off the lead, Thompson and co-driver Andrew Murphy were unaware he was piloting a car with compromised handling through the damaged tyre.
It was a situation that announced itself on the first corner of stage two, as the SW Engineering-backed Mitsubish Evo wallowed wide and forced the 29-year- old to tip-toe his way through the five forest miles before being able to switch to a spare.
It put the crew 25 seconds down on leader Richard Hill, but a rapid blast through the final stage before the day’s first service break, combined with a boost problem for Hill, more than halved the gap and made it game on as the field headed South to Grizedale.
While the run over the two stages were good and allowed Thompson and Murphy to close in on third place Andy Davies, Hill and second placed Sacha Kakad extended their advantages and with only one stage remaining, a 15-second deficit, while not insurmountable, was looking imposing.
With the Ribble Valley driver making his overall championship position his focus rather than class honours, an all or nothing approach saw Thompson produce arguably his best drive of the day.
Pushing hard, he went five seconds faster than Davies to secure the final spot on the Group N podium, seven seconds faster than Kakad and a full 12 seconds faster than Hill, but was in no mood to celebrate come the finish.
Thompson said “It’s good to get the championship started after the last round was cancelled, but I’m not massively happy with that result.
“We did well to get the gap back from 22 seconds after the puncture to just five at the finish, but had we put fresh tyres on for Grizedale, we could have taken a really strong win.
“We’re targeting as strong a finish in the overall championship this year, so to get a good overall result was going to be a struggle here through the number of cars in the higher classes using the event as a pre British Rally Championship shake down.
“The car has plenty of pace in it though, we set three fastest stage times in Group N so it was overall a good performance, but the class win was there to take so I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed not to come away with that.
“We’ll head to Somerset for the next round optimistic and hope for better on the Wilson next year.”