The Vauxhall Motorsport team will be going flat out for victory in the Manx International Rally this week. Vauxhall has already won the champion manufacturer's title in the 2000 Mobil 1 British Rally Championship, but the driver's championship...
The Vauxhall Motorsport team will be going flat out for victory in the Manx International Rally this week. Vauxhall has already won the champion manufacturer's title in the 2000 Mobil 1 British Rally Championship, but the driver's championship goes down to the wire with Neil Wearden aiming to take the award over the high-speed tarmac stages of the Isle of Man.
Based in Douglas, the three-day Manx Rally is the highlight of the BRC calendar, when the country's top teams and drivers meet to battle things out over specially closed stretches of public roads.
"The Manx has a special magic," says Neil Wearden. "It is the ultimate tarmac rally challenge for everyone in the British Rally Championship - and for me especially. I love tarmac rallies, I've won the previous round and I'm fighting fit for another win that hopefully will give me the champion's title as well."
Wearden from Preesall in Lancashire is co-driven as usual by Oxford's Trevor Agnew in the RML prepared Vauxhall Astra Kit Car. He holds second place in the drivers championship behind Finland's Marko Ipatti (Mitsubishi) and needs not only to beat the Finn, but to beat him by 12 points - the same as an outright rally win - to avoid a complicated tie-break.
There are circumstances that could see Wearden able to finish second and still win the title if the Finn fails to finish the tough 207 miles of stages and that could also benefit Vauxhall team-mate Mark Higgins.
Higgins, born on the Isle of Man, would dearly love to win his home event for Vauxhall. He already has two outright victories under his belt from the Vauxhall Rally of Wales and the Jim Clark Memorial, but his year has been fraught with a lack of good fortune, placing him third in the points tables and unable to take the title himself.
"I will be helping do whatever I can," said Mark. "It is important for Vauxhall to win both the drivers and manufacturers titles this year. I've already done my bit towards Vauxhall becoming champion manufacturer. But it would be great if I can win the Manx and for Neil to still become champion as well."
Higgins, who now lives near Newtown in Wales, has to be considered a Manx specialist. He is co-driven as usual by Bryan Thomas from Herefordshire and knows the challenge of the Manx: "This rally can be a bit of a lottery. You can drive absolutely flat out for over two days, pull out a nice big lead and then something trips you up at the last minute - so many top drivers have crashed out while leading - its just that sort of unforgiving place."
Much of the three-day action centres on the TT Grandstand in Douglas, which is a main service area. Spread over three days, the event starts at Ramsey at 6.50 on Thursday (September 7) evening and takes in a first leg of seven stages (42 miles). The TT Grandstand sees the event re-start at 9.54 on Friday morning for the second leg's 11 stages (100 miles), while the final Saturday leg starts at 9.10 in the morning and features eight stages (65 miles) including the final "Millennium" stage: 13 miles of the famous Druidale/West Baldwin roads - a true sting-in-the-tail.
"The Manx will be a real nail-biting finale for the championship," says Mike Nicholson, Vauxhall Motorsport Manager. "It is a great reward for everyone's hard work to have already won the manufacturer's championship, but we will be aiming for the double in the Isle of Man. It isn't going to be easy, but we have two of the country's best drivers working together and their RML Astras are certainly a force to reckon with on tarmac stages."