With so many Irish competitors in this year’s MSA British Rally Championship, it could be argued that round four, this weekend’s Todds Leap Rally NI, (part of the Ulster Rally), is a home event for the series.
As it moves briefly but importantly back to asphalt for the last time and begins the second half of the season, the series longest event has a new base in the beautiful Fermanagh Lakes and with it new challenges for the BRC crews.
Around thirty percent of the field hails from Ireland, north and south of the border and although the top of the tables is occupied by a Finn, three of the top five places are held by drivers from the emerald isle.
Importantly for the series, one of Ulster’s own wrested the top of the podium from Finn Korhonen on the previous round in Scotland, County Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher taking his first BRC victory with Gordon Noble on the ‘notes.
DGM Sport’s Fisher has consistently set good stage times and has overhauled Tom Cave for position on both of this year’s gravel events. Now back on asphalt, he will be hoping that local knowledge and a home crowd will spur him on to another victory.
Thanks to Fisher’s top points, DGM Sport now takes a clear two point lead in the BRC Teams Cup ahead of Morris Lubricants DMS, with three third places leaving Culina Palletforce Racing needing good results to catch up.
But Korhonen and Marko Salminen still lead the championship with two wins from three rallies. And despite admitting to preferring gravel, it was they who won on the Jim Clark Rally.
After three events the points difference is minimal and with the top five having a perfect finishing record, dropped scores will come into play at the end of the season, potentially further narrowing the gap.
The 29 year old has set one target for this season – to take the BRC title and break the thirteen year drought for a Finnish driver’s name on the coveted BRC trophy. He and Salminen are well on their way though, already cracking the Finns’ ten year absence from the top spot on a BRC event.
Morris Lubricants DMS crew Cave and Ieuan Thomas add to the Celtic feel of the series, the Welsh pair never off the podium this year. But a win eludes them in 2013, despite leading in Scotland and coming within a hair’s breadth of victory on the Jim Clark. They have proved their pace time and time again and with two wins last year must surely be in with a shout.
At just 24, Carryduff’s Jonny Greer is already one of the BRC’s stalwart competitors, first appearing on the Ulster Rally as far back as 2007. Never out of the top five at the end of the season, he is no stranger to the podium either and with fellow Ulsterman Jonny Hart back alongside, the pair must hope for a shot at the top at home.
From the Republic of Ireland comes the fist driver not in the ubiquitous Citroën DS3. Fiesta R2 pilot and former Pirelli Star Driver finalist Daniel McKenna vowed to take another shot at the coveted prize shootout and has already grabbed a spot. Mixing it in the top five overall in the BRC, he has overcome problems on each event to top the BRC RallyTwo championship tables with two wins and a third place.
Next up is yet another Celt. Scottish islander John MacCrone know all about closed public road rallies, having grown up on the Isle of Mull. He has set some quick times this year, but struggled with a puncture and suspension failure, robbing him of a decent result until the Scottish Rally. He hung on for a sensible fourth, but his Culina Palletforce team is relying on a another good result in Ireland.
Steve Røkland hails from Norway, but has made quite a stir in the UK this year. He and James Aldridge did more than enough to grab the first Pirelli Star Driver nomination and have given McKenna a run for his money so far. They trail McKenna by five points in RallyTwo, nine ahead of Jon Armstrong.
And so to the 2012 Pirelli Star Driver winner; Omagh’s Mark Donnelly is driving a Citroën DS3 R3T as his prize for impressing at last year’s shootout – a dream result for a youngster who has ticked all the right boxes in the BRC over the last few years.
Still just 22, he and Dai Roberts are taking a little time to adjust to the flappy paddle gearbox and 1600cc turbo car after previously driving with mechanical change and high revving engines. But they proved a wining partnership last year and their time will come again – watch this space.
The MSA British Junior Rally Championship and Twingo Renaultsport R1 Trophy UK points tables are identical – a fight between Ben Mckay and Harry Threlfall. With a non finish apiece until the Scottish, it was all to play for. But it was Mckay who held his nerve and leads both series by two points.
Citroën UK continues to dominate the MSA British Manufacturers Championship and the prestigious Citroën Racing Trophy UK. Results and points tables follow those of the overall events and championship, the top four locked out by the DS3. McKenna took back to back Fiesta SportTrophy maximums on the Jim Clark and Scottish, moving two points clear of Røkland and Scottish Pirelli Star Driver nominee Ruary MacLeod.
With one of the shortest distances to travel for the start of the Todds Leap Rally NI, Kesh’s Jon Armstrong has extended his lead to 26 points over southern counterpart David Carney in the RAVENOL Oils Newcomers Trophy. Westport’s Carney shares second place with Mckay.
The Mantis Best Presented Car Award has gone to three Fiesta crews so far. Garry Pearson taking the £250 cheque, trophy and Mantis products on round one, Kit and Tim Leigh were deemed the best turned out on round two, while Enniskillen’s Timmy Cathcart’s Fiesta was deemed showroom standard in Scotland. The award is voted on by championship scrutineers before each event – the challenge for the crews is to keep them like that until the end!
With all the classes, cups and categories to fight for, new stages and new challenges face many of the crews in Enniskillen, but one thing is for sure – they won’t have time to look at the stunning scenery!