After a 12-week summer break, the clock is now counting down for the fifth round of the Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship: the Todds Leap Ulster Rally. The international element of the event, which is now called Rally NI, takes place on Friday and Saturday 19 & 20 August and represents the second of the British Championship’s three asphalt rallies this season.
The annual visit to Northern Ireland by Britain’s premier series is well and truly etched into the calendar. It holds lots of memories – both good and not so good – for lots of crews and, over the years, has often become a turning point for the fortunes of many.
So far this season, the man most fortunate is current Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship leader David Bogie who, together with co-driver and fellow Scot Kevin Rae, has taken his Mitsubishi Lancer to three wins out of the four rounds so far and finished second on the other. And, whilst two of these victories were on gravel, the third was on tarmac, which goes to prove that the canny 24-year old from Dumfries is a force to be reckoned with whatever the surface.
Currently second in the championship and just 12 points behind is Elfyn Evans. After winning the Pirelli Star Driver Award at the end of 2010, the young Welshman is this year campaigning the bright red, Pirelli-liveried Subaru Impreza. He has already shown that he is a worthy winner of this coveted prize by scoring two-fourths, a third and his very first outright BRC victory on his home event, the Bulldog Rally of North Wales.
However, there is no doubt that the leading pair will come under intense pressure this weekend from those who regard the Ulster Rally as their home event. One such driver is Carryduff’s Jonny Greer, who currently lies third and, with only four points separating him from Evans, he’ll be ready to pounce given half the chance.
Indeed, Greer is well and truly on course for his first win: two fourths, a third and then a second on the Jim Clark Rally – the Championship’s first asphalt event of the season – means that he is now up to speed in his S2000 Škoda Fabia. He and co-driver Dai Roberts have only one step to go to make it to the top of the podium and that opportunity may well present itself in Ulster.
And, whilst Scotland, Wales and Ireland are represented by the leading trio of drivers, English honour is upheld by fourth-placed Adam Gould. A fourth and two third-places so far this season means that he is 15 points behind Greer but unfortunately, the Subaru driver and his co-driver Seb Marshall are not able to compete this time round whilst they re-assess their budget for the remainder of the season.
Another English Subaru driver follows in fifth: Tom Clark, who is honing his skills at an alarming rate, bearing in mind he only turned 18 in May! However, he won his class in Ulster last year, so he and co-driver Alistair Wylie are no strangers to this event.
Next in the overall standings – just one point behind Clark – is another competitor from Northern Ireland. Driving a factory-supported Citroën DS3, Marty McCormack from Draperstown and co-driver David Moynihan from Cork are not only sixth in the Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship standings overall, but also lead the fiercely contested Formula 2 category for two-wheel drive R1, R2 and R3 cars.
They make no secret of the fact that, while they are eager to win the F2 title, they are out to record a podium finish on home asphalt. And, if previous form is anything to go by, they may well spring a surprise on their four-wheel-drive rivals.
The Todds Leap Rally NI features a total competitive distance of 127 miles, with the rally HQ and service park located at Junction One International Outlet Shopping Centre on the northern side of Antrim. The first car leaves the start at Barbican Gate in the town centre at 13.35 on Friday afternoon and, after the initial leg of six stages, returns for the overnight halt at 22.50. Leg two on Saturday gets underway at 06.40 and sees a further eight stages before crews cross the finish line at 17.50.
For more information on the Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship visit www.rallybrc.co.uk.