Round one Carlisle preview

Alister McRae, Gwyndaf Evans, Martin Rowe, Tapio Laukkanen, Jonny Milner, Mark & David Higgins - all former British Rally Champions, and also all entrants for round 1 of the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane British Rally Championship, the Pirelli Rally, which...

Alister McRae, Gwyndaf Evans, Martin Rowe, Tapio Laukkanen, Jonny Milner, Mark & David Higgins - all former British Rally Champions, and also all entrants for round 1 of the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane British Rally Championship, the Pirelli Rally, which kicks off from Carlisle this coming Saturday.

Despite the long lay off since the Tempest Rally last November the off season will have been well worth the wait. Now that the expensive World Rally Cars no longer count for overall honours and Group N and S1600 cars being the order of the day, a number of teams have already registered their interest in the new look championship.

1997 and 2005 British Champion Mark Higgins will attempt to retain his title this year at the helm of a Morgan Stobart Subaru Impreza N12. 'I am really looking forward to the 2006 championship. I reckon its going to be one of the closest in years and its great to see all the young faces out there having a go.. The run up hasn't been ideal, as testing has been extremely limited but I think any one of a number of drivers could take the honours this year. ourselves included!'

Marks' team mate will be Lorna Smith, the 2005 Ladies Champion. Lorna also very nearly won the production title outright! The 2005 Production class winner, Barry Clark will team up alongside experienced WRC regular Roman Kresta in a pair of Stobart/ VK Ford Fiesta S1600's and could prove to be a match for the 4 wheel drive cars on the tarmac rallies.

Mitsubishi Motorsport will once again field 'works' cars for a variety of top drivers. 2005 Evo Challenge winner Ryan Champion will be on board one car, with another driven by the very quick Rory Galligan. Rory proved to be the quickest production class driver in 2005 but was dogged by a succession of problems and will be hoping for better luck in 2006. A late entry for the team will also see 2004 Champion David Higgins start the Pirelli rally, and is sure to spark a bit of sibling rivalry with brother Mark!

Gwyndaf Evans, the Welsh Rally Wizard, returns to the championship he won in 1996, and will be teamed up with rising young star Stuart Jones in a pair of Hankook Mitsubishi Evo 9's. Also contesting the championship in similar Mitsubishis will be double British champion Johnny Milner and Stephen Petch, whilst Subaru is also well supported, with 1998 British champ Martin Rowe, JWRC regular Conrad Rautenbach, John Lloyd, Phil McVay and rising youngster Nick Kenny all using a variety of Imprezas.

Taking the fight to the S1600 Fiestas will be young James Wozencroft who has been rewarded for his fine drives in 2005 with an ex-works Suzuki Ignis S1600. Whilst JWRC regulars Kris Meeke & Guy Wilks are both hopeful of the occasional outing in what is looking to be the toughest national championship in Europe.

The 2006 championship consists of 6 rounds, 3 on tarmac and 3 on gravel, with the final round being the 2006 Wales Rally GB, the prestige behind being crowned champion is too great an incentive to ignore.

Round 1 will be the world renowned Pirelli International Rally, based in Carlisle, and which incorporates some of the most famous rally stages in the United Kingdom. The most daunting of which are run through the infamous Kielder Forest, home to many epic rally battles over the years.

As well as playing host to the opening round of the British Rally Championship the Pirelli International is also the second round of the Pirelli Stars of the Future, whilst the Landrover Challenge, the BRC Masters and the Clubman's Rallies will all be run simultaneously.

In the Stars event Tom Walster and Kevin Davies will both be hoping to put their disappointing Astra Stages results behind them, where both cars retired. Meanwhile the talk of the clubman's event is the entry of 1995 World Rally Champion Colin McRae in his 'special' Ford Escort MkII. Going head to head with him is top BTRDA Silverstar competitor James Belton, whilst runaway Xspec 1400 championship leader Neil Weaver has also entered in his giant killing Vauxhall Corsa, and is sure to usurp a few of the more powerful cars ahead of him.

The Pirelli Rally begins with a ceremonial start in Carlisle, but catering to the general public the organisers have also laid on the 'P-zero spectator stage' which will be visited by the competitors no less than 3 times over the 2 day event, making this an excellent opportunity to see a bit of history in the making.

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Series BRC
Drivers John Lloyd , Colin McRae , Mark Higgins , Alister McRae , Martin Rowe , Guy Wilks , Kris Meeke , Roman Kresta , David Higgins , Gwyndaf Evans , Conrad Rautenbach , Johnny Milner , Lorna Smith , Stuart Jones , Barry Clark