Its that time of year again! Dust, fast straights, flowing corners, hairpin bends, jumps - you name it - the stages of the Swansea Bay National Rally have them all! The fifth round of the 2003 KUMHO National Rally Championship looks set to be an all action affair - with the leading protagonists all ready to play their part as the season enters its second half of what has been an closely fought year.
Fresh from victory on the recent Mutiny Rally, Roger Duckworth will be hoping to maintain his run of excellent form as the series moves to South Wales. Duckworth was in the best of form on the Llandrindod Wells based event, and will be guided by South Walian Aled Davies for Swansea Bay. Davies won the rally in 2001, so Duckworth will be looking for Davies to be a lucky charm once again!
Championship wise, the main KUMHO series front runners are all heading to the valleys with victory in mind. David Mann currently leads the series in his KUMHO tyres backed Subaru Impreza. The Roush Manx Rally winner is always there or thereabouts on the stage times, and will be another driver with home advantage in the co-drivers seat. Alun Cook hails from Caerphilly and is one of the most experienced co-drivers in the championship. Mann will be more than keen to make the most of running first on the road if the conditions are dusty.
Right behind Mann is crowd favourite Andy Burton. Guided by John Roberts, the Lyonshall potato king brings his fearsomely quick Peugeot-Cosworth to South Wales - an area where he has tasted success beforehand. Burton a former winner of the Prosport Red Dragon Rally, which uses very similar stages to the ones on this event. A winner on the Astra Stages this year, Andrew will be a fancied front runner on the long stages where the Peugeot can get its Cosworth V6 power down.
Going quietly about his business once again will be the consistent Martyn Harrison in his MG Metro 6R4. Always in and around the Top Six, Harrison will be looking for another good finish this weekend to maintain his steady and impressive haul of points. Having been partnered by Stewart Merry and Plug Pulleyn so far this year, Martyn's choice of co-driver for Swansea remains a mystery at present!
Two other drivers who are not to be discounted are Bob Ceen and Steve Petch. Ceen has been right on the pace this season, finishing second on the Astra Stages and heading for another top result on the Mutiny Rally until the Impreza made friends with a tree. Petch and co-driver John Richardson have recovered from transmission failure on the opening Rallye Sunseeker to move steadily back up the points tables in their immaculate Hyundai Accent WRC. Will Swansea prove to be kind to two of the more experienced campaigners?
The battle for Group N honours looks set to be another Crealey vs Cox classic. Brendan Crealey has been the class of the field in his ADR Motorsport machine this season, notching up a number of wins with some superb performances. Cox on the other hand has settled into things more steadily, and as the KUMHO Man of the Meeting award winner on the last round, he cannot be discounted for the win in South Wales. Crealey however maintains his advantage in the Mitsubishi Evolution Challenge. Trying to prevent the Lancer whitewash will be Paul Wedgebury. The man from the Midlands has been in good form of late and will be one to keep an eye on in the Group N fight.
In the classes, trophy hunter Craig Middleton leads the way in the Junior, Formula 2 and A7 categories after a brilliant year in the Hyundai Coupe F2 car. Craig partnered by Robin Hernaman for the second time this year after the pair gelled on the Mutiny as they took the Matador machine to 11th overall. Junior rival Ian Barrett is also hoping for better luck after clutch failure on the Mutiny. The young Yorkshireman feels that he is due a good result - will it be next weekend?
In Super 1600 and A6, Andy Gwynne leads the way, with teenage co-driver Holly Robinson on the route notes. The pair have built a commanding lead in the championship and will be keen to extend their run of success after a troubled outing on the Mutiny Rally. Likewise, Steve Blunt and Bob Duck have been in good form of late in the N3 class in their Peugeot 306. Their championship position boosted by the unfortunate retirements of husband and wife team of Dave and Pamela Hull. The Hull's have not finished a round this year, after being plagued by sheared wheels. Hopefully the pair have now resolved the problem and will be right up there again in Swansea.
Class A5 has consistently been a good battleground this year. Steve Petch Jnr, Matthew Humphris, Kevin Wills, Iain Freestone and youngster Ed Stallard have all been hard at it this year on the stages. It will be anyone's guess as to who will come out on top this weekend. The Junior Petch is due a good result after a string of early engine failures in his Ford KA. Another man keen to grab another handy helping of points is Scot Mark Annand. The Norway based engineer has been the class of the field in Group N1 this year, and Annand may well be able to clinch the title in Swansea.
Follow the rally on its new website at www.swanseabayrally.com - or keep up to date with results on www.kumhorally.info, the official championship website.