ALL CHANGE FOR ASPHALT With one round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship under their belts and an almost perfect scorecard on the gravel of Kielder, Guy Wilks & Phil Pugh still had outstanding unfinished business on the Jim ...
ALL CHANGE FOR ASPHALT
With one round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship under their belts and an almost perfect scorecard on the gravel of Kielder, Guy Wilks & Phil Pugh still had outstanding unfinished business on the Jim Clark Rally.
When the two worst scores were dropped, their points tally in 2007 was a perfect 100/100, but the tally belied problems on two of the asphalt rounds. The Jim Clark was going so well, the lead changing several times early on, but by stage eleven, Wilks had pulled 21 seconds clear of team mate Gwyndaf Evans, with championship rival Mark Higgins a further eleven seconds adrift.
On stage twelve, the final test of the first day, the heavens opened, catching out Wilks' slick-shod Mitsubishi which careered though a hedge, effectively ending his challenge. Super Rally may have allowed him to re-start the next day, but Higgins took victory after Evans suffered mechanical problems.
Fortunes were reversed back in April this year with Higgins MG S2000 challenge fading when his engine expired. It was a Mitsubishi 1-2, but Fin Juho Hanninen was a worthy first-timer runner-up to Wilks and 2004 Champion David Higgins back on the podium.
The Mitsubishi Motors UK pairing of Wilks & Hughes took the opening event by the scruff of the neck as they had in 2007, setting fastest times on all but one stage. Wilks' march to the top step of the podium was unhampered by anything more serious than acting as road sweeper to the following pack.
Second on the Pirelli was Fin Juho Hanninen, but he will not contest the Jim Clark. In a brand new N14 Subaru and third was David Higgins, who was delighted to be on the pace again after swapping to the new car. He will have to learn and set it up all over again on the asphalt of the Berwickshire lanes.
Mark Higgins' rally came to an untimely end in his new MG S2000 Sport, when engine problems forced him to stop on stage ten. His newly announced IRC programme will mean he returns to the TEG Sport fold for the Jim Clark, eager to repeat last year's victory.
Mitsubishi Motors UK lead the Teams' Championship by virtue of Wilks' win and Morrow's fourth place on the opening round. The team is looking forward to laying some ghosts to rest on the Jim Clark, which wasn't its best event last year to say the least, both drivers relying on Super Rally to gain Teams' points.
Team TQ.com go to the Scottish borders in second, David Higgins third place making the lion's share of points on the Pirelli, while team Principal Hugh Evans had a frustrating off, relying on use Super Rally to restart.
Atlas TEG Sport's Patrik Flodin and Wyn Humphreys took fifth and ninth place respectively, the team ending the event in third place, a single tantalising point adrift of second. Humphreys will be rejoined in the team by Mark Higgins, reuniting last year's runner up partnership.
Fourth is the Revolution Wheels Rally Team with just Rob Swann scoring points in eleventh. The team has announced that James Wozencroft will replace Karl Simmons on this event as the second scoring driver, after his excellent tenth place in his older Subaru.
PIRELLI STAR DRIVER AWARD
Juho Hanninen was deemed to be the most impressive in April's dark and slippery conditions by the Pirelli Star Driver judges. He took the "yellow jersey" at the finish in Carlisle by virtue of his performance against drivers with much better knowledge of the demanding Kielder stages. He is the first to be put forward to the end of season shoot-out, the eventual winner taking a fully funded drive in the 2009 British Rally Championship.
Reigning Pirelli Star Driver Darren Gass made a sensible start to his prize season, but a rare pace note error, left the Mitsubishi stranded in a ditch. The pair used Super Rally to gain mileage on Saturday, top ten times recovering them to 14th overall at the finish. After a successful test with ADR Motorsport, he is also buoyed by experience in an Evo in Ireland last month, so should go well on his preferred surface.
There will be plenty to watch on the Borders "tar", Gass determined to improve, while everyone else pushes hard to take that coveted place in the Pirelli Star Driver final.
Rally 3/Diesel Cup
In the battle for Rally 3, Irishman Brian O'Mahony returns with his awesome sounding Renault Clio. He climbed to 13th overall before a rear suspension component failed, leaving him unable to complete the Pirelli. He is another who is relishing the move to the "tar" and the car should suit sealed surface better too. Stefan Davis' event was fraught with problems from the start, his Puma succumbing to a mystery transmission problem by the end of the first stage. His struggle with the Puma is "A final attempt for a good result." looking ahead to a possible change of car for future rallies.
In the Rally 3 diesels, Fin McCaul not only won the category from Steve Graham, but he took outright R3 victory as well; absolutely delighted with the improvements to his rear wheel drive BMW over the winter break. He is looking forward to the three asphalt events that better suits the suspension set-up of the BMW. Astra diesel pilot Graham put up a fight, but a broken transmission joint ended his event, another scoring by virtue of Super Rally. Last year Steve and brother Tony battled in the R1 class in an MG, while Simon Hughes debuted the diesel on the lanes round Duns.
Rally 2/Citroen C2R2 Cup
Swedes Joakim Nyman and Andreas Sjolander battled with young Brit Adam Gould last month, but with the Scandinavians missing, Gould may have thought the pressure was off; No such luck! Alastair Fisher has been stunning in the Fiesta Championship and he joins the BRC on the ' Clark, promising to take the fight all the way. They will not have it all their way though, as young gun Kris Hall is also out in a Fiesta and has an impressive turn of speed too.
Andrew Hockridge took second in R2 and won the Citroen C2R2 Cup in his debut BRC outing, delighted to take the win on his fist foray into a major rally championship. He and the rest of the C2R2 Cup runners will be rejoined by two of last year's hot drivers George Thomas and Jason Pritchard. The latter led the series for much of the year, while Thomas was a Pirelli Star Driver nominee.
Martin Roberts will return to mix it with the Citroens in his immaculately prepared C2, currently lying second in the points after a podium on the opening round. Martin McCormack leads the C2s away, hoping his evident speed on gravel translates to asphalt.
Rally 1/Suzuki Swift Sport Cup
Seven Suzukis will contest the event, led by round one winner and local Gordon Nichol. He will be chased by Danish Rally Federation driver Niki Bjerg, who is used to the little 1600cc car, competing in his home one-make series as well as the UK's.
Mark Gamble led the first event before fuel pump failure robbed him of a fine debut win. His last-minute deal to contest the series also meant he used an unfamiliar left hand drive car, but now his own car is ready, he will be even more of a force to be reckoned with.
The ceremonial start to the Jim Clark International Rally is in the Borders town of Kelso at 4pm on Friday 23rd May. The first of the seventeen stages gets underway on Saturday morning from the nearby Charterhall airfield service area, with cars returning for an overnight halt at around 6pm.
The remainder of the 151 stage miles starts early on Sunday before a finish ceremony in Kelso just before 2pm will see the winner take the well earned spoils.
Full stories, championship points are available at www.rallybrc.co.uk as well as reports from the stages, photos and new audio interviews with the top drivers.
TV Schedules for the preview programme tomorrow night and the post event programme due to be shown on Monday are also on the BRC website in the NEWS CENTRE