The final rally in the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship sees the WRC, PWRC and BRC merge for the third season, as the British series approaches the end of its 50th year with a classic battle in prospect. Mark Higgins has the...
The final rally in the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship sees the WRC, PWRC and BRC merge for the third season, as the British series approaches the end of its 50th year with a classic battle in prospect.
Mark Higgins has the real advantage over his brother David, despite them sharing 78 points apiece at the top of the leaderboard. Mark has more wins than any of his rivals, although the title could still be won by any one of the top three, as the final rally has two points scoring opportunities. The triple BRC Champion's hat-trick of rally wins looked unlikely at the start of the year, after an ill-fated foray in a Super 2000 car ended in engine failure. But it is testament to his determination that he re-signed with Atlas TEG Sport following a good 2007 season with the new-to-the-BRC family run team. Taking a perfect 60 points on the three tarmac events mans he is well placed to take his fourth title.
David Higgins has struggled developing his new Team TQ.com Impreza, but a string of excellent third places has been encouraging and his consistency and improvements to the car means he could still add to his tally of one BRC crown. If his title rivals falter, he needs only to finish third again on both sections of the double header to take the Championship victory.
After a successful appeal to the MSA against his initial exclusion on the previous round, Rally Yorkshire, Guy Wilks' victory there puts him in with a chance of retaining his BRC title. Just two points behind the leaders, the Mitsubishi Motors driver's exceptional performance on the gravel events, both in 2007 and 2008, puts his title defence within his reach. The reigning champion's season has not gone completely to plan though. He was runner up twice on tarmac; with a total loss fire denying him of any points on the Jim Clark, a minor off cost him time with a broken wheel on the Isle of Man and transmission trouble coupled with an off meant the Ulster was one to forget.
Adding further spice to the battle for the title is the return of the overseas drivers who fought hard on the opening round in April. Registered competitors Juho Hanninen, Eyvind Brynildsen and Patrik Flodin, all of whom have been contesting the PWRC, are eligible for BRC points and could easily influence the title fight.
Gwyndaf Evans joins Wilks in the second Mitsubishi, having replaced Phillip Morrow and delivered third in Ulster He too had transmission woes though, dropping him one place in Yorkshire. The 1996 British Rally Champion will start Rally GB for the 20th time in 2008, making him probably the most experienced driver in the field.
Rounding off the Teams' entries is TQ.com's Hugh Evans, who will return to his Welsh roots for the final event this year. His commute from Kuwait mans time in the car has been limited between rallies, so it is to his credit that he has finished every rally in he Subaru.
MSA BRITISH TEAMS CHAMPIONSHIP
With Wilks now back in the fray for the overall title, the Teams' Championship is also revitalised. TQ.com leads from Mitsubishi by just three points, so with Atlas TEG Sport opting not to score points, the fight will be down to the four drivers, three of whom are BRC Champions.
MSA BRITISH JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Brian 0'Mahony and John Higgins struggled early on in the screaming Super 1600 Clio, the junior driver consoled with a pair of sixth places on tarmac and just two points off the MSA Junior Championship category lead. But since only O'Mahony and C2R2 Cup youngster Jason Pritchard are contesting Rally GB, they will battle it out on he stages, O'Mahony also chasing additional Rally 3 points.
PIRELLI BRC STAR DRIVER AWARD
The innovative scheme is in phase two this year, one talented winner already at the wheel of his fully funded prize drive, while each round offers up a new nominee for this year's final shootout.
2007 winner Darren Gass has found the prize Mitsubishi frustrating so far, finding the balance between learning the car and wanting to prove his pace a difficult one.
He proved he has pace and staying power in the intermittently appalling conditions on the Manx event, taking fifth after three days, but he still believed he had more to come and set about proving it on his home Ulster Rally. The stage times were cracking, only British Champions bettering the pair, but minor mechanical gremlins were followed by a low speed roll and subsequent steering failure. His pace in Yorkshire was cracking, but transmission and battery problems cost him places at the end, dropping him from third.
Unperturbed by the potential pressures of being the 2008 Pirelli Star Driver are the five finalists so far; Fin Juho Hanninen taking the scheme's yellow jersey first on the Pirelli Rally. Adam Gould took the next slot in the final, following this up with a place in the Pirelli International Shootout.
Another overseas driver Andreas Sjolander was number three, despite the Swede crashing out of Rally Isle of Man. His pace obviously impressed the panel of judges as he took the accolade at the finish with his car remaining bent on the trailer. Northern Ireland's Phillip Morrow was somewhat compensated after his departure from the Mitsubishi team before his home event, the first person to be nominated in both 2007 and 2008.
Luke Pinder added his name to the list on his home event in Yorkshire, the young Puma driver joining the rest, including the highest placed Juniors from the Citroen and Suzuki one make series'. Jason Pritchard cannot be caught in the C2s and Denmark's Niki Bjerg took his place for the shootout immediately after Wales Rally GB on the Suzuki's final round, the Tempest Rally in October.
Rally 2/Citroen C2R2 Cup
Adam Gould leads Rally 2, but since he is not contesting Rally GB, the class battle is likely to mirror that for the Citroen C2R2 Cup. Second placed Andrew Hockridge, who leads the Citroens in his first major championship year, will have Matt Cotton and Jason Pritchard to contend with. Cotton has made a successful move from the BRC's support series despite a first round shunt, while Pirelli Star Driver nominee Pritchard was sidelined early on with a broken foot. Nathan O'Conner rejoins the BRC after an punctures put him out on the opening round and Indian driver Supradip Dey Roy completes the R2 runners, returning with his MGZR for another crack at Rally GB.
Rally 1 is entirely made up from Suzuki Swift Sport Cup competitors, where Mark Gamble has already secured the title. The only entrant to venture out on Rally GB is Scot Gordon Nichol, the pair also being the only mixed BRC crew on the event, with former Armed Forces Rally Team co-driver Emma Morrison alongside.
The winner of this year's Silverstone Tyres BRC Challenge, as in 2007, takes a fully funded drive on Wales Rally GB. Young Manxman David Harrison will drive a 1400cc Group N MGZR on the final round of WRC and BRC, he and co-driver Glyn Thomas hoping to emulate last year's winner Luke Pinder who won class N1 on the gruelling event.
The British Rally Championship support series is aimed at aspiring drivers who want a taster of the BRC and part of the prize is free entries on all the 2009 BRC rallies in class R1, a prize worth in excess of 10,000 GBP.
The rally kicks off with a ceremonial start at Cardiff City Hall from 6pm on Thursday 4th December, action in the forests of south Wales beginning on Friday morning. There is a slim possibility that the BRC title could be decided at the end of the day, but with a full set of points available for Saturday and Sunday's combined stages, the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship is only likely to be decided at the finish back in Cardiff on Sunday at around 3pm.