BRC. WARNING: MAY CAUSE EXCITEMENT If the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship's second half continues like the first, it will probably go down as one of the most closely fought and exciting in the series' 51 year history. The forthcoming and ...
BRC. WARNING: MAY CAUSE EXCITEMENT
If the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship's second half continues like the first, it will probably go down as one of the most closely fought and exciting in the series' 51 year history. The forthcoming and widely anticipated Rally Isle of Man on July 10th & 11th, is the start of the run to the finish and the second of three straight tarmac events for the crews.
Back in March when the season began, it was unclear whether the battle for supremacy would be as interesting as the last few years, since the majority of competitors signing up for the Championship were youngsters with little experience of the pressure at the top.
At Bulldog Rally North Wales, a new opening event for the BRC, triple Champion Mark Higgins looked like being the favourite, since reigning champ Guy Wilks was seeking a return to the World stage.
But it was 22 year old Irishman Keith Cronin who astonished old and new alike, setting a pace that was equal to Higgins', the pair even tied to the tenth of a second after the first two stages. And as the event drew to a close Cronin held his nerve when Higgins bent his suspension, snatching victory on the final stage to lead the Championship.
In the chasing pack were more youngsters too, all eager to make their mark. Stuart Jones rejoined the fray with a fine third place, while 2008 Pirelli Star Driver winner Adam Gould, newcomers to the BRC David Bogie and Dave Weston Jnr and newcomer to four wheel drive Alastair Fisher finished within 45 seconds of one another.
By the time of the Pirelli International Rally the sense of anticipation was tangible at the new Carlisle Racecourse Rally HQ, as Guy Wilks returned to the series in a Proton Super 2000. Having won all the BRC gravel rounds in 2007 and 2008, the reigning champion set about picking up where he left off, immediately building a gap to Higgins. Phillip Morrow briefly held third with some good times on his one-off return to the BRC, but Cronin was elevated to third when he crashed out.
Cronin's pace was stunning though, forcing an error from Wilks after setting a pair of fastest times on his debut Pirelli. Wilks minor excursion ultimately proved his undoing when the car caught fire soon afterwards, halting the stage as the following cars stopped to help extinguish the blaze. Wilks' departure left the way clear for Cronin to continue reeling in Higgins for the lead, a feat he managed on the final stage for the second event in a row.
The youngsters provided entertainment and a close battle for the third step of the podium again, Bogie hanging on for an excellent third. But Fisher was just 1.8 seconds behind this time, with Johnny Greer and Weston Jnr within 35 seconds of the battle for bronze.
The Jim Clark International saw a change in surface, for the first of three asphalt events in the BRC season. Higgins not only needed a win to put his title hopes back on track, but there was the small challenge of winning the event for the fifth time in succession, a feat never before achieved on any BRC event in its 51 years.
After the second stage it looked like it may be an easy ride for the Manxman, as Cronin punctured and lost two minutes. But problems with Higgins' Impreza and an impeccable drive from Cronin saw the gap closed to less than three seconds with just three stages remaining. It was Higgins who held his nerve this time though, the misfire and differential problems resolved just in time for him to defend his lead.
Higgins' eventual winning margin was just over eleven seconds, astonishingly the largest gap so far this year. It was enough to put him back in the title race, the fifth consecutive Jim Clark BRC win an added bonus under the circumstances. Two points split the pair as they travel to Higgins' home event, his wish to repeat last year's trio of tarmac victories more pressing than ever.
The chasing pack seems to be taking turns on the podium, Adam Gould rising to the challenge on the Jim Clark Rally with third. But it was at the expense of two others who had held the place; local man Euan Thorburn dropped to fourth with last minute driveshaft failure, while Fisher carried a one minute penalty for a timing error. Jonny Greer set some top three times to take fifth on the same minute.
It would be a foolish gambler who bet against Higgins taking victory on his home Manx lanes, particularly as he could take overall honours for the second year in a row. But the pack is set to pounce at the hint of a mistake or signs of pressure from the triple Champ; all in all another great reason to keep a close eye on the excitement that is The British Rally Championship.
International Rally Isle of Man is based entirely at the excellent TT Grandstand facility overlooking Douglas, from where cars will start at 10am on Friday 10th July. 100 stage miles later they return at 9pm for a well deserved overnight halt, before a 9am Saturday re-start.
A whisker over 80 miles then separates the remaining crews from the champagne finish at around 4.15pm; a total 20 stages deciding the outcome of what will undoubtedly be a thrilling event.