Ribble Valley rally driver Russ Thompson claimed a first Group N win of the season at the DMACK Carlisle Stages last weekend, to extend his lead at the head of the BTRDA Production Cup standings.
Looking to become the first driver to successfully defend the trophy, reigning champion Thompson was targeting a maximum haul of points from his visit to the border city, and underline an excellent campaign so far, after taking consecutive podiums from the opening three rounds of the championship.
The morning started in the best possible time with Thompson leading from the front of the Group N field with a three-second advantage over 2016 title rival Andy Davies, as he revelled in the driving rain out in the forests.
On the first long stage of the day, those conditions provided an unexpected challenge for an event in June, with the windscreen of Thompson’s Mitsubishi Evo steaming up and forcing he and co-driver Andy Murphy into a more cautious approach than they’d necessarily have liked.
By the end of the 13 and a half miles, the lead had become a deficit, as Davies passed through the stage a full 11 seconds quicker than Thompson, however it would prove to be a short-term displacement from the top of the class time-sheets.
Over-eagerness to enhance his lead over Thompson saw Davies caught out by the poor conditions and crash out on stage three, handing the class lead back to the driver from Slaidburn with a 12 second gap to his nearest class rival.
Following the midday service break, a good drive through the penultimate stage of the rally had the 29-year-old comfortably in command of the Group N class and handily placed to mount a challenge on fourth overall, with just 13 seconds lying between him and that mark.
However, with the event having proved to be highly attritional with almost half the field being forced into retirement, the desire to seal a class win proved stronger and saw Thompson take a steady approach to the final stage of the day, coming home with an eight second lead and seventh overall.
And while results earlier in the year were tempered by the feeling that more was possible, Thompson cut a content figure in the service park at the end of the event.
He said: “I’m very happy. I think that is the first rally in a long, long time where I can come away feeling that everything went right.
“Out tyre selections were spot on, out pace was really fast and we were able to judge when and when not to push.
“We managed a second in class here two years ago, so I was hopeful of being able to fight for a good result, but these stages are demanding and tough as we saw last year when I only got about a mile into stage one before going out, so I wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“In the end, I got what I was looking for and, with the last three events being rallies I know well and have had good results on before, we have a very good chance of successfully defending the Production Cup title.”