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Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship http://www.cqm.co.uk/www/dart/mobil.html An Inordinate Survey The job of smoothing the folds and flattening out the form of the 'map' of the 1996 Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship is ...

Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship http://www.cqm.co.uk/www/dart/mobil.html

An Inordinate Survey

The job of smoothing the folds and flattening out the form of the 'map' of the 1996 Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship is a responsibility that inevitably falls to the Vauxhall Rally of Wales. As the event that puts paid to the predictions, bar debates and idle chatter of the close season, it has a unique role, fanfaring the mast colours of new sponsors, the preferred driver line-ups, and of course, the new and bettered machinery as international rallying at its very best once again climbs onto it's public stage.

But Chester, the gateway to almost a 150 miles of Welsh forest stages, rarely seems to be an accurate form guide for a Championship that will conclude some seven months distant in the very different complexion of the Isle of Man.

And there is every reason to suggest that 1996 will be an exceptionally difficult year to call. The runaway success of the two-litre formula sees another year of sustained manufacturer commitment to the Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship which is unrivalled anywhere in the world. This has provided the all-so-necessary platform for burgeoning, youthful talent and weathered experience alike to take to the stages in the numbers and quality reminiscent of the glory days of the late seventies.

So no single competitor can afford to be complacently bullish about their prospects. At the time of going to press, Alister McRae's notable absence from the Championship entry list may reassure some, but a glance through the field throws up talent heaped upon talent. Gwyndaf Evans must be one that takes succour from McRae's absence at a time when his Gordon-Spooner prepared RS2000 should really be maturing. He has another Network Q RAC Group win under the belt, and although he will be missing the competition to be the object of national pride since the retirement of his kinsman, David Llewellin, he will nevertheless find the challenge bearing down upon him from every angle.

For a start, in '96, Gwyndaf shares his stable with some notable others. Ford seem keen to let the battle run unfettered. Whilst Ulsterman Stephen Finlay will also enjoy the full benefit of Boreham know-how, the RS's ranks will also be swelled by the addition of the Simmonite Sisters and Neil Simpson to help navigate the blue oval's hopes and aspirations.

Where Alister left off in 1995, Mark Higgins picks up. As a rather more known quantity than his new-found teammate, he will lead Didcot's efforts in keeping the Nissan name on the manufacturer's trophy and his understated (and possibly under-realised talents) should provide inspiration for a very-welcome visitor to the Principality in the guise of Ercan Kazaz, a Turkish driver who will run in a second Nissan Sunny GTI.

In 1996, it will be VW that provide one of the platforms for a now-traditional Finnish assault on our domestic prize. The precocious talents of Tapio Laukkanen will provide interesting relief for the more usual Gp N-driven talents of Jouko Puhakka. Yes, another devilishly quick Finn, who in a similar vein to Jarmo Kytolehto last year, has never been seen outside his native Scandinavia. The colour concept Golfs, enjoying Sony support, will also include a third car fielded for the closer-to-home Lincolnshire abilities of Ashley Blenkhorn. Regardless, starting the Vauxhall Rally of Wales with three Finnish National Championship two-litre wins on the slate, the VW trio are certainly to be reckoned.

Other ambitions will be underwritten by the capabilities of the 1995 British Junior Champion, Neil Wearden in a Coventry-prepared Peugeot 306 plus the addition of a works Skoda Felicia entry for Bridgenorth's Steve Wedgebury, adding significant dimension to a year that is simply bursting with manufacturer determination.

Honda's hopes star the two-pronged attack of Asquith Autosport, running a Honda Motorsport Europe Civic for the younger Higgins, David, whose talents recently came under the spotlight at the Autosport International Live Action show. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire camp of SW Motorsport field the official Honda UK entry for Julian Reynolds and former Ladies World Champion, Louise Aitken-Walker. Her welcome return from the rigours of motherhood will certainly add dimension to the Ladies competition, although many a male competitor will no doubt be wary of feeling the heat of her breath down their proverbial collars, Nomex triple-layer or not.

Outside of the 2-litre Championship, Renault Dealer Rallying will unveil a pair of show-stopping Meganes in kit specification for Scots campaigner Robbie Head and a new Gallic face for 1996, Serge Jordan. In the meantime, Robbie's erstwhile co-driver from last season, Terry Harriman, adopts a rather more seemly role as the new Renault team manager.

The Production Cup for showroom cars also bristles with expectation - more Finnish talent will run head-to-head with that of a home-grown variety, Olli Harkki and Harri Rovanper (Mitsubshi Evolution 3's) both revisiting an audience that they duly impressed in 1995. Add to their theatre the prospects for the new one-make bounty fund for Imprezas and Legacies, the Subaru Shield, and the seams of expectation will be rich in 1996, two driven wheels or four.

Back at the scene of Colin McRae's masterful crowning in late November, the competitors are not the only element of this year's very positive approach to the growing favour rallying is eliciting with the British public; the 1996 Vauxhall Rally of Wales sports a new 2.3 mile special stage on the promenade at New Brighton. Designed to deliver rallying to the doorsteps of the populous catchments of the Wirral Peninsula and Liverpool, the Euro Wirral special stage under floodlight on Friday evening at 8pm will be an exceptional showcase at the end of Leg 1 to view the scope of this year's contest.

For the more adventurous, the lure of the classic Welsh forest stages - Dyfi, Penmachno and Clocaenog - now indelibly stamped with the McRae lore, will be an irresistible draw to see the Champion's pretenders. Just be sure to remember your compass to find your way through the jungle of talent.......

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Series BRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Mark Higgins , Alister McRae , Gwyndaf Evans