Ulster Rally round four preview

Higgins hoping for hatrick As the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship enters the second half of one of the most exciting seasons experienced in quite a while, the big question on most peoples minds is...

Higgins hoping for hatrick

As the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship enters the second half of one of the most exciting seasons experienced in quite a while, the big question on most peoples minds is 'can Mark Higgins be beaten?

With second overall in the opening round, followed up by 2 wins Higgins now holds a commanding 33 point lead in the championship, but with the season only half over there are still a number of top drivers capable of taking the fight to the defending champion.

After the opening two rounds, the Pirelli International and the Jim Clark respectively, threw up 2 extremely close battles (with the Jim Clark victory being decided by a tie break after Higgins and Rory Galligan tied on stage times!) the recent Rally Isle of Man was a bit of a walk over for local man Mark Higgins.

With the weather being characteristically fickle and with a number of potential challengers struggling to stay on the road, let alone with all 4 wheels planted on the black stuff Higgins was able to romp away with relative easy to his second victory of the season.

Star drive of the event must surely go to Guy Wilks who, in an ageing Suzuki Ignis S1600 overcame the atrocious conditions to finish 2nd, taking a couple of stage wins along the way.

Recovering from numerous set backs was double British champion Jonny Milner and 3rd place was a fine reward for his perseverance. As he was also top Mitsubishi driver at the finish this also elevates Milner into the lead of the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge.

By contrast the majority of the Mitsubishi drivers had a weekend they would rather forget. Both works cars, driven by Rory Galligan and Ryan Champion, were caught out in the atrocious conditions, as were Stuart Jones, Stephen Petch Junior and a fair few other drivers. Fortunately, despite some pretty big crashes resulting in badly damaged cars, all crews escaped unharmed. however the dents in budgets might be more apparent later in the season.

Round 4, the Phillip White Tyres Ulster Rally, sees the championship contenders cross the Irish Sea for the third and final tarmac round and after a relatively poor performance here last year for Mark Higgins the others will be hoping to get one up on the Manx man.

Joining the fray for this epic battle will be 2004 Production car World Champion Niall McShea who will be hoping to use his local knowledge to his advantage.

Another Irish lad with a point to prove is Kris Meeke. Kris, a regular in the Junior World Rally Championship, was relishing the chance to go head to head against his great rival Guy Wilks. Meeke won the recent JWRC Rally Germany, whilst Wilks was victorious a week later on the JWRC Finland, but after failing to secure a deal to run a Suzuki Swift on the event Guy Wilks will be one of a number of absentees. Another BRC regular to skip this round is Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach. Despite lying 2nd in the standings Conrad is competing in Africa on the same weekend.

The 2006 Philip White Tyres Ulster Rally runs over the weekend of 1st/ 2nd September 2006 and comprises 15 stages totalling 125 stage miles. With local knowledge an all important requirement, as is understanding the weather system for the area brave gambles on set up and tyres could be the winning ingredient, however get it wrong and it could spell disaster.

Either way championship leader Mark Higgins is convinced that the competition will be a lot closer this weekend. So far the season has gone really well for me, but the others have also experienced a fair bit of bad luck. I'm sure that the Ulster won't be a walk in the park and it's going to be a fine line between pushing hard enough to be there or there abouts and pushing too hard and going off!

The 125 mile 2006 Philip White Tyres Ulster rally begins from Armagh at 3pm on Friday 1st September, with the first car expected at the finish at around 5:30pm on Saturday afternoon.

-credit: brc/geoff mayes

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Series BRC
Drivers Jim Clark , Mark Higgins , Guy Wilks , Kris Meeke , Conrad Rautenbach , Stuart Jones , Niall McShea