Suffolk rally star David Mann expects to be the one everyone is aiming to beat when he commences his defence of the Kumho Tyres National Rally Championship at the Rallye Sunseeker in Bournemouth on February 27/28. The Flixton mushroom farmer...
Suffolk rally star David Mann expects to be the one everyone is aiming to beat when he commences his defence of the Kumho Tyres National Rally Championship at the Rallye Sunseeker in Bournemouth on February 27/28.
The Flixton mushroom farmer and his Caerphilly-based co-driver Alun Cook put in some barnstorming performances last year to take the crown for the first time and, armed with a new car, they are determined to kick-on in search of a second title in 2004.
Mann, again supported by the main championship sponsors Kumho Tyres, has swapped his title-winning Subaru Impreza for a newer, ex-factory Impreza WRC which, he hopes, will give him the edge to fend off the quality opposition that entered for the first of a truly nationwide seven round series.
Again Mann and Cook will travel the length and breadth of the mainland, from the South Coast to Scotland and Wales, plus the annual visit to the frighteningly fast tarmac round on the Isle of Man, where the duo savoured a magnificent victory last year.
Mann's new Subaru, previously owned by Gary Midwinter, has already had the cobwebs blown off at a high speed forest test session near to the Ace Motorsport premises of Andy Card in Newbridge, South Wales.
Card, formerly an engineer with world rally championship teams Prodrive and Msport, is set to run Mann's striking blue Impreza WRC throughout the season. Mann says:
"Andy lives not far from Alun, which is handy, and because he has worked on World Rally Cars for many years, he knows all about them and we have the utmost confidence that he will do a superb job.
"The WRC has much more suspension travel and handles noticeably better than the old Impreza and I was very pleased with the way the test went.
"We didn't want to hide as champions - we wanted to come out and defend the title and are both looking forward to the challenge.
"We know this season isn't going to be easy because, as defending champions, we are the bench mark that every else will gauge themselves by and are up there to be shot down.
"There are some very quick drivers in this championship and most of them are entered in next weekend's opening round."
Mann cites the likes of local star Marcus Dodd, who won the Rallye Sunseeker 12 months ago and has triumphed four times in the last five years, Andy Burton, who pipped the East Anglian to second place on the series opener 12 months ago, former national champions Roger Duckworth and Mark Perrott, and ever-fast championship stalwart Steve Petch.
"Even down as far as number 20 there is Ian Gwynne, who is in the car we took to the championship last year, so he'll be a contender as well!"
The action begins on Friday evening with the opening two stages in the dark around Bournemouth's Winter Gradens, then recommences the following morning for further tests in forests of Uddens, Ringwood and Wareham, plus three spectator stages at Somerley Park. Mann observes:
"The terrain is different to the other rallies in the championship as it's not so hilly or twisty but there are more long, high speed straights and square corners."
Welsh navigator Cook points to the assistance of many people behind the scenes who were vital factors in their successful 2003, plus some who have come on board to help get them to the start line in Bournemouth. Cook says:
"Obviously Steve Thompson and Tony at Kumho have been invaluable and continue to be our major backers but High Motive have supplied our radios, Alan Brown from Questmead provides a great service with Mintex brake pads and other competition parts, while Neil at Extol has done the graphics on the car and Simon Thomas is responsible for a spare Peltor intercom system.