Russ Thompson stormed his way to championship glory on last weekend’s Nicky Grist Stages rally, as a fourth class win of the season secured both the 2018 BTRDA Production Cup and Group N titles for the Ribble Valley driver.
Arriving off the back of an exhilarating Carlisle stages in June, where a battle for a place on the events overall podium cost he and co-driver Andy Murphy a fourth straight win, the pair were still in the proverbial driving seat, knowing a return to their position as the Group N pace-setters would regain the titles they won in 2016.
Heading out on a scorching hot day in mid-Wales, the duo took first blood as they completed the day’s first stage three seconds faster than championship rival Pat Naylor and co-driver Ian Lawrence, in what would prove to be a pivotal early application of pressure.
Pushing hard on the day’s second test as he attempted to arrest Thompson’s lead, Naylor had a wild moment on a fast downhill stretch, picked up a puncture and was forced to stop mid-stage to change the damaged tyre.
It was a stop that cost five minutes and on a day where conditions both on the road and in the cars. were a challenge of equal difficulty to the calibre of the crews, afforded Thompson a free hit to take the win that would seal the titles.
And while the only doubt around that result was if Thompson was to suffer a similar mechanical problem, the rest of the rally saw no let up in the pace the two drivers were running.
A fired up Naylor took the fastest time through stage three before Thompson hit back and set the benchmark on all five of the remaining competitive miles of the event, completing those in a total of 16 seconds better than Naylor.
It was a performance that allowed Thompson to take the group N win with a lead of 54 seconds and to finish the event in eighth overall.
Securing both those titles with two rounds to spare, the 30-year-old’s focus now switches towards attempting to secure as strong a finish as possible in the overall Gold Star championship standings, and on ensuring the five scores that count for his final points total are all maximums.
Thompson said: “We knew the first stage was going to be important, with Pat and I driving as well as we have been, and we were very happy to have taken three seconds out of him in a relatively short stage,”
“After putting in a good time himself, taking those three seconds put the pressure back onto Pat and ultimately allowed us to have a measured run to the end.
“We kept on pushing though and that let us take a big margin over Scott Faulkner back in second.”
Currently holding a joint lead in the Gold Star table with Conwy’s Matt Edwards, moving ahead of the Fiesta R5 driving Welshman may prove a feat too far.
However, runners-up spot is an achievable target that would allow Thompson to finish in the highest position achieved by a Group N runner in many a season.
Thompson added: “We’re in a great position to have both of our main championships won with two rounds to go because we can really have a go at the overall leaderboard.
“Carlisle showed if we’re in a position to cut loose, there is some serious pace still in both the car and ourselves as a crew and I’m hoping we can really go for a strong finish.”