Ribble Valley rally ace Russ Thompson extended his 2018 winning streak, after a hard fought win on the Welshpool-based Plains Rally in the British Trial & Rally Drivers’ Association championship.
Winning the Group N class for the third time in three events this season, the 30-year-old continued in his role as the man to beat in the both his category and the series Production Cup, and now enjoys a commanding 14-point lead at the head of those standings.
It was far from a straightforward triumph though, with the now customary battle between the GPM backed driver, co-driver Andy Murphy and their familiar foils Tom Naughton and Pat Naylor raging throughout.
Split into two loops of four stages, the morning’s test allowed Thompson to build a seven-second lead by the mid-morning service halt, as he found the extra time to place the pressure on his rivals.
After being bested by Naughton to the tune of a single second on the day’s first stage Thompson responded by setting the class benchmark on stage two, turning the deficit into a two-second lead, before going even quicker through stage three with a time four seconds clear of his nearest pursuer.
Having never previously found a happy rhythm on the Plains, and with all of the day’s stages short and sharp in nature rather than the long and flowing variants where he normally excels, Thompson headed back to the action happy but expecting a huge fight to retain his lead.
With the pressure building, a rare misstep from the Lancastrian on stage five looked to have given an opening for the chasing pack to claw back some of the time with a small spin costing Thompson precious seconds.
His error though paled into insignificance moments later, as Naughton lost control of his car at the end of the stage and crashed out in violent fashion.
Whilst dramatic and hugely significant in the context of the rally, both members of the crew were able to walk away with relatively minor injuries.
From the seat of the number seven car, it massively changed the completion of the event as a lead that seemed set to be slashed, ballooned to 22 seconds and firmly Thompson’s to lose.
While that risk remained a consideration, the desire to win as fastest car in class saw Thompson opt to keep pushing in his pursuit of victory.
And having already matched the total number of wins required to lift the class championship in the last four seasons, a return to the ever popular Kielder forest complex for June’s Carlisle Stages will, Thompson hopes, allow for further steps towards the title.
Thompson said: “We’re really pleased to finally take the win. It’s a really good event that we like coming to and with the year having gone so well, felt like it would be a good judge of where we are. We’ve got a good lead in Group N and the Production Cup and we’ve got a great chance of more strong results.”