British Rally Championship 2009 - Game on! The year-long battle between Keith Cronin/Greg Shinnors and Mark Higgins/Bryan Thomas for the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship comes down to this: whoever wins International Rally Yorkshire takes...
British Rally Championship 2009 - Game on!
The year-long battle between Keith Cronin/Greg Shinnors and Mark Higgins/Bryan Thomas for the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship comes down to this: whoever wins International Rally Yorkshire takes the title - it's simple as that!
Actually neither really needs to win, but without complicating the issue with tedious calculations, so long as they finish inside the top three (as they have all year), Irishman Cronin needs to beat Higgins for the title and vice-versa.
Pirelli TEG Sport number one Higgins goes to the ultra fast North Yorkshire forests on a roll, having taken three tarmac victories in a row as in 2008. He swaps to the faster Impreza N15 that team-mate Adam Gould has used this year, the youngster offering to swap cars to help Higgins' title bid. But the triple British Rally Champion is definitely concerned, since this is the first event where Cronin has previous experience, finishing third last year in Yorkshire.
Whilst not registered for BRC points in 2008, the then 22 year old came home just 39 seconds behind Higgins, who was locked in a battle for the Championship with Guy Wilks, the latter taking the title, but not likely to defend his win in Yorkshire.
Cronin does, however have the disadvantage of having crashed out of the previous round in Ulster while leading the event, but the 23 year-old will put that out of his mind for this sprint event which carries a multiplier of one and a half points.
Alastair Fisher and last year's Champion co-driver Rory Kennedy could still take second in the Championship if Cronin falters, currently lying third after an excellent season. The young Northern Irish driver is certainly very close to the pace of the front pair, just over a second a mile behind Higgins at the finish of his home event last month.
Any driver down to sixth place in the current standings could still mathematically take second at the end of the 2009 season, but disaster would have to strike all the top seeds, certainly possible in such an unpredictable sport.
The youngest of the pack chasing third on most of the events in 2009 is Dave Weston Junior, who should go quickly here as he was another to finish well last year whilst not registered for the BRC. His fourth place on the event was one better than Ieuan Thomas, yet another new co-driver for the 19 year-old, who has drafted in last year's Championship runner-up.
Martin McCormack has wrapped up the BRC Junior title and with the final round of the Citroen Racing Trophy being Rallye Le Touquet in France, the fifth-place sitter in the overall standings has opted to contest the event at the wheel of an historic class Escort.
David Bogie and Kevin Rae will hope that their Team JRM Lico Mitsubishi has benefited from input from 1996 BRC Champion Gwyndaf Evans, who cannot score points in Yorkshire. It will therefore be down to Scotsman Bogie and returning team-mates Stuart Jones & Andy Bull to push as hard as they can for another podium, having three third places between them this year.
Jonathan Greer and recently enlisted Kirsty Riddick have had an up-and-down season, but the Ulsterman could still improve on his 2008 Championship position. Last year he finished sixth on Rally Yorkshire, moving him to fifth place in his first full season. Currently seventh, the memories of the last two tarmac events will need to be forgotten as the crew set about the stages, crashing on the Manx and retiring from third with mechanical failure on his home event.
Yorkshireman Chris Firth is delighted to be inside the top ten in his debut BRC season. He has not had the best of years though, crashing heavily in the Isle of Man before bouncing back with his second eighth place this year.
The 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy UK and Ireland winner Craig Breen won't be contesting the event, the ninth placed youngster instead concentrating on preparation for his place in the Pirelli Star Driver final which will take place sometime after Rally Yorkshire.
Reigning Pirelli Star Driver Adam Gould will contest the final event of his prize season in Higgins' older specification N11 Impreza and is under strict instructions to get the car to the finish for Pirelli TEG Sport team points. The youngster from near Bristol has proved his pace this year, having set excellent podium-worthy times, but three crashes have left him languishing at the bottom of the top ten BRC points table.
One to watch for overall honours on this event is sure to be Daniel Barry, the 2009 Mitsubishi Evolution Challenge Champion wanting to make a good impression ahead of next season when it is hoped he will contest the full British Rally Championship.
MSA BRITISH TEAMS RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
With the return of Stuart Jones to the JRM Lico team, Pirelli TEG Sport's potential early victory in the MSA British Teams Rally Championship has been denied.
The late addition of Jones to the Rally Yorkshire entry list will mean that Higgins and Gould will be up against both cars in the rival team, regular driver David Bogie making his sixth appearance in the Mitsubishi Evo 10.
TEG Sport's Lynn Newby had been keeping her fingers crossed that the team could concentrate wholly on overall positions on the event, but the battle will now be a tactical one if the Carnforth-based outfit is to take the prestigious title.
With 33 points splitting them and Chesterfield's all-Mitsubishi JRM Lico team, Higgins and Gould will need to have a disaster to lose the top spot, but as always anything can happen in rallying.
Euan Thorburn will be the only driver representing the Revolution Wheels Rally Team again, since Dave Weston Jnr who was tipped to join the fold, opted for a no-registered co-driver and is therefore ineligible to score on the Tamworth team.
PIRELLI STAR DRIVER
The Pirelli Star Driver judges will be out on the Yorkshire stages for the final time in 2009 on the lookout for the sixth event-based finalist. The top placed Junior driver from each of the three one-make series' will also take their places in the shoot-out for a fully funded drive in the 2010 BRC. Although Fiesta SportTrophy Junior and overall winner Craig Breen already had his place booked back in April on the Pirelli Rally.
Rally 3 has attracted just a couple of drivers to the event, but the absence of Breen and Diesel Cup winners Steve and Tony Graham, means that Tom Walster cannot now be caught in the BRC's two litre class. It will be Kris Hall with the pressure of needing a win to snatch second in his Fiesta and it is another FST runner and Jonny Greer's brother Barry will be Hall's opposition. He will want to finish the year on a high with just one finish from three starts to his credit.
As no Rally 2 cars will contest International Rally Yorkshire, the category points will remain fixed and MSA British Junior Rally Champion elect Marty McCormack adds another award to his 2009 haul.
He and regular co-driver Phil Clarke cannot now be caught in the BRC class, so they will take even more silverware with them from the BRC Awards ceremony in October. This, coupled with his nomination for the Pirelli Star Driver Shootout, makes 2009 a very good year for the Ulsterman.
Rally 1 is still wide open for any of the top three Swift Sport Cup drivers to take, along with the one-make series crown. Gordon Nichol, Molly Taylor or Luke Pinder are all in with a shout for both class and Cup and the maths are simple, winner takes all! The top placed Junior from the Swift Sport Cup also gets his or her place in the Pirelli Star Driver final, only Pinder and Taylor eligible.
With the whole event based around the Pickering showground again, it is an ultra-compact route that will face the crews on this, the final round of the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship.
A spectator stage will draw the crowds at the showground too, and this year RallyFM will be broadcasting live via the BRC website www.rallybrc.co.uk and www.rallyfm.net.
Greenlight Television's Rallyzone preview programme will go out on Sky Sports Xtra on Wednesday 23rd September at 6pm. The main event will then feature on Monday 28th September, again on Sky Sports Xtra at 6pm.