McRae signs for Volkswagen

Reigning Champion Alister McRae is returning to the British Rally Championship - at the wheel of a Volkswagen. McRae, 25, has signed with the Sony/Revolution Wheels/Pirelli-backed team to contest the next round of the series, the Ulster International Rally. Alister will also tackle next weekend's (Jun 21-23) Donegal Rally at the wheel of the Sony- liveried yellow 'Colour Concept' Golf GTI 16V.

Announcing the exciting move, Steve Bagnall, Manager of Volkswagen's rally partner team SBG Sport, said: 'Naturally we are delighted to have Britain's best young rally star driving one of our cars on an event as important as the Ulster. Alister was the 2-litre winner there last year, and we hope he's going to repeat the feat!

'We've known Alister for a long time and had been discussing the possibility of him doing some tarmac testing for us. One thing led to another and with the help of Alister's personal backer Shell Oils we were able to come to an arrangement for him to drive for us in Ulster, and to get some useful experience of the car on the Donegal Rally. We will also be doing some post-event tarmac testing together.'

Alister, brother of World Champion Colin, will drive the blue Revolution Wheels/Trigard-liveried Golf in Ulster, the car piloted hitherto by rapid Finn Jouko Puhakka. Said Bagnall: 'Jouko's arrangement with us was only for the first three rounds of the championship. Given that he was completely new to British rallying and the Golf, he has done exceptionally well to finish every round in the points and we're very impressed. It's quite possible that he will be back for the final round, the Manx.' McRae has prior commitments which clash with that event.

The other two Colour Concept GTIs will be driven on the Ulster (Aug 2/3) by their regular pilots, Tapio Laukkanen and Ashley Blenkhorn. McRae's co-driver in the Golf will be his regular partner, David Senior.

For McRae, the chance to defend his '95 Ulster victory was one he felt he could not pass up: 'My aim this year was to try to get into World Championship rallying, but that's not looking likely at the moment, so the chance to get back into the British Championship with a top works team was one I couldn't ignore. I really enjoyed the two-wheel-drive cars last year and I'm looking forward to trying the Golf for the first time next week.'

There's no doubting Alister's pedigree: he was a class winner in the Scottish Rally Championship in 1989, Group N victor on the RAC Rally in 1992 - driving the SBG Sport-prepared Shell Scholarship Sierra Cosworth - and last year swept all before him in the British Championship with two 2-litre rally victories on his way to the title. He followed that up with a superb fourth overall on the 1995 Network Q RAC Rally and outright wins on the first two rounds of this year's Mobil 1/Top Gear RACMSA British Rally Championship.

-- Volkswagen rallying