The stages of International Rally Yorkshire could not be more different from the previous round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship, as asphalt gives way to ultra fast gravel for the first time since April. Crews will return...
The stages of International Rally Yorkshire could not be more different from the previous round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship, as asphalt gives way to ultra fast gravel for the first time since April.
Crews will return to the classic gravel stages after a five month break, during which three consecutive asphalt events have shaped the championship into yet another burgeoning classic. With five of the seven scoring opportunities counting towards the championship and sixty points still up for grabs, it is by no means over yet.
The narrow twisty and bumpy stages in Northern Ireland on the Ulster International Rally played host to round four of the Championship, where Mark Higgins and Rory Kennedy took their third straight victory, David Higgins and Ieuan Thomas preserving their overall lead by just two points.
David's season alongside regular co-driver Ieuan Thomas has seen the development of his new Team TQ.com Impreza and an early string of third places. Adapting to the new hatchback Subaru has been difficult, but each event has netted improvements in the performance and handling. Last year's Rally Yorkshire saw him swap to an Impreza, taking third place. With the new N14 he will be hoping to improve and hang on to his championship lead.
Mark Higgins' hat-trick of rally wins looked unlikely at the start of the year, after an ill-fated foray in a Super 2000 car ended in engine failure. But it is testament to his determination that he re-signed with Atlas TEG Sport following a good 2007 season with the new-to-the-BRC family run team, taking a perfect 60 points on the three tarmac events. Second in 2007, he will have to pull out all the stops to take victory from his hard-charging rivals.
Guy Wilks' Irish Mitsubishi challenge was thwarted by a rear differential problem and subsequent off in Ireland . But he took the runner up spot behind triple Champion Higgins for the second time in as many events, with David Moynihan still standing in for Phil Pugh. The reigning champion's season has not gone too well after a textbook start on the Pirelli. A total loss fire denied any points on the Jim Clark and a minor off cost him time with a broken wheel on the Isle of Man.
However, not only was Wilks the winner in Yorkshire in 2007, but he was the one who took three straight victories at the end of his title-winning season, results that bode well for his championship defence.
Gwyndaf Evans replaced Phillip Morrow at Mitsubishi, an unpopular move with some in the sport, although not through dislike of the ever cheerful Welshman. Contractual detail allowed the move, and Evans delivered third in Ulster , but in the intervening time after the Manx, Philip Morrow had joined Mark Higgins. The event turned into for a one-off appearance, though, budget constraints sidelining him in a difficult year.
Fellow Irishman Jonny Greer's season has been consistent enough to put him in fourth place in the Championship after four rounds. An excellent achievement when you consider the three drivers ahead share five British Rally Championship crowns. His best result, a fifth place on the Jim Clark, was no mean feat either and he has not been outside the first eight all year, topping the standings in the Privateers Cup in his Mitsubishi.
Another revelation is James Wozencroft, although he has experience in the BRC above that of Greer, his switch to four wheel drive paid dividends on the first two tarmac events, taking a brace of fourth places. His Revolution Wheels backed Impreza won't be quite the same again after the second Ulster stage though, rolling at around 100 miles per hour. He and Chris Ridge recovered after a brief visit to hospital, but carried the aches and pains of the high speed trauma as they hobbled around the service area.
Stepping up from the BRC's support series come Scots Dale Robertson and Paul Beaton. Their self-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6, now nearly ten years old, has not only been mainly trouble free, but apart from the Pirelli where they were forced to use Super Rally, has not been outside the top ten BRC finishers.
Brian 0'Mahony and John Higgins are another returning to the Championship, the Super 1600 Clio pilot struggling early on. The junior driver was consoled with a pair of sixth places on tarmac and is just two points off the MSA Junior Championship category lead.
MSA BRITISH TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIP
Three teams, Team TQ.com, Mitsubishi Motors UK and Revolution Wheels have registered drivers for round 5, Rally Yorkshire. In the battle for Teams' supremacy, Team TQ.com leads by virtue of solid results by David Higgins and Hugh Evans. Second place position is currently Atlas TEG Sport's but having elected not to nominated drivers on this event assists Mitsubishi Motors UK with Guy Wilks and team mate Gwyndaf Evans, just another four points further back. James Wozencroft is back in a Revolution Wheels team car after his huge shunt in Ireland . His team mate Rob Swann, who is fresh from success in Flanders will need to pull out all of the stops in the fight to catch up the others.
MSA BRITISH JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
The prestigious Junior title is close with three scoring opportunities left, just eleven points separates the top six with Dane Niki Bjerg ahead of a scrap for second. The gap to O'Mahony and Nick Rowland, who share second, is a mere two points, Adam Gould is three further back and Irishman Martin McCormack is tantalisingly close, a point adrift. The biggest gap in the top six is to Jason Pritchard in sixth, four points away from the leading pack.