Seems 'the sun aint gonna shine anymore' as former champ Mann sing the blues.

The 2005 rally season began just the way the 2004 one had ended for Flixton, Bungay driver David Mann - with more freak mechanical misery.

The 2003 Kumho Tyres National Champion, whose defence last year was wrecked by misfortune, never even made it to the start ramp for the opening round of this season's title race - the Rallye Sunseeker in Bournemouth (Feb 25/26).

Mann and Caephilly co-driver Alun Cook had such high hopes for this year's seven-round series, re-named the MSA Gravel Rally Championship, after their Kumho-backed, Ace Motorsport prepared Subaru Impreza WRC was hired and taken to an impressive victory by Dorian Rees on the recent Wyedean Rally.

A minor intermittent misfire had been detected on a test run last week but, following a thorough check, the vehicle's mechanical guru Andy Card took it for a 15-mile spin with no ill-effects just hours before the Sunseeker began along Bournemouth sea-front on Friday evening.

Mann, a prominent mushroom farmer when not rallying, takes up the story: He said:

"The problem had been put down to possibly fuel starvation but the mechanics changed the ECU just in case and we were confident it had been cured until we went to take the car down to the start.

"It was ticking over all right but when I blipped the throttle the engine stopped and we couldn't restart it at all - there was just no spark - and we now suspect it must be an intermittent wiring fault."

"Intermittent faults are obviously the most difficult to find and we are desperately disappointed.

"Each crew is allowed to drop the lowest of their seven scores throughout the championship but picking up a zero so early is not what we wanted.

"We feel as if we are jinxed because everything ran so smoothly when Dorian Rees, who is another of Andy Card's customers, had the car, yet we seem to be in the midst of a never ending rut of mechanical failures.

"We thought we had all the problems we could have had last year and that this season we could start with a clean sheet but it's not worked out that way."

Mann spent much of the rest of the South Coast event spectating and thinking what might have been and his day was hardly brightened by the news that his beloved football team Ipswich Town had also been beaten 2-0 at home, so slipping out of the automatic promotion places in the race to get up into the Premiership.

While little consolation to Mann, Cook or most of the rest of the team, there was cause for celebration for one of their main sponsors, as the Rally was eventually won by reigning British Champion David Higgins in Kumho Tyres-shod Hyundai Accent.

The Manxman's 25-second victory over multiple former winner Marcus Dodd is the latest motorsport success for the global tyre company, whose UK base is in Surrey.

Mann and Cook are already entered for the next round of the championship - the Brick and Steel Rally in Kielder Forest on March 19th.

2005 Rallye Sunseeker Result:

1 |David Higgins |Daniel Barritt |Hyundai Accent WRC |1:07:14.9 | |2 |Marcus Dodd |Andrew Bargery |Hyundai Accent WRC |1:07:39.5 | |3 |Paul Bird |Ian Windress |Ford Focus |1:07:55.7 | | Ends: 26.2.2005)