First asphalt encounter for new-look BRC

This weekend’s Jim Clark Rally hosts the fourth round of this year’s MSA British Rally Championship and, following three gravel rallies so far, the Scottish Borders-based event provides the first asphalt encounter of the season. So, with the championship switching to two-wheel-drive cars only this year, it begs the question; who will be on top on tarmac?

To underline the competitiveness the BRC’s new 2WD format, the first three rounds have produced three different winners, with only a handful of seconds separating the front-running crews. Jarkko Nikara has challenged for the lead in all three rallies, but each time has found himself a nemesis.

In round one – the Rallye Sunseeker – it was Mark Donnelly; round two – the Bulldog Rally of North Wales – it was Tom Cave and, in round three – the Pirelli Rally – it was Keith Cronin. Therefore, the Finnish ace hopes that he can turn the tide on tarmac and record his first win of the season.

With Donnelly in his Renault Clio seeded at number one and Cronin in his Citroën DS3 at number two – and both hailing from the land synonymous for closed-road rallying – the form books suggest that the round one and three winners will be tough to topple. Nikara starts at three with his Citroën DS3, whilst current championship leader Elfyn Evans carries number four on the door of his Ford Fiesta.

Even though the Welshman is running in Class 6 (the R2 category), he cannot be ruled out as a possible victor. He has already shown that despite the power disadvantage he gives away to the three Class 5 (R3) drivers running ahead of him, he can be more than a match – especially if it rains – as the Berwickshire lanes have a reputation of being treacherous when they’re wet, which will go some way to equalise the differences in engine output.

At five is Osian Pryce, who has a habit of springing surprises and, although more familiar with gravel than asphalt, is another Citroën DS3 driver to watch. In similar machinery and seeded at six is Jonny Greer who, from Northern Ireland, is certainly no stranger to tarmac and contested a rally in Southern Ireland last weekend to bring himself up to speed with a car he admits he is still getting used to.

Peter Taylor has also shown he can cut it at the front and is eager to put his Renault Clio R3 into a high scoring position next weekend, as he currently shares third place in the Championship with Cronin. Right behind him on the road will be Cave who, bearing in mind he holds second place in the standings, is likely to improve on his seeding – even though he is another driver who has had more seat-time on gravel than on tarmac.

The second of the four Scandinavian drivers – and second of the Class 6 (R2) category competitors – is Jussi Kumpumäki. Seeded at nine, the young Finn – driving a Ford Fiesta – starts just ahead of fellow countryman Jukka Korhonen in the Pirelli Star Driver Škoda Fabia R2. The fourth Finn to take to the tarmac is Niko-Pekka Nieminen, who starts at 15 – also in a Ford Fiesta – and will be happy if he can stick with Northern Ireland’s Matthew Cathcart, who starts one place ahead of him in a similar car.

Also from Northern Ireland and a driver who excels on asphalt is Desi Henry. He starts at 11 in his Citroën DS3, whilst at 12 and making a welcome comeback for the first time since his spectacular retirement during the Rallye Sunseeker in February, is Callum Black, who will be debuting his DS3. Next to take to the stage will be the ever improving James Grint – another Citroën driver – with Class 8 leader Gethin Jones in his Ford Fiesta ST starting at 17.

Seeded at 18, Fiesta driver Ruary Macleod will be looking to break his run of no-scores from the past two rounds, whereas Škoda driver Arron Newby hopes that his outright win last weekend at a single-venue event will give him a boost this weekend. Another teenager, Chris Ingram, starts behind Newby in a Renault Twingo R2, with current leader of the MSA British Junior Rally Championship Garry Pearson in his Renault Twingo R1 next.

Rounding off the field of 24 BRC entries is Fiesta driver Alex Parpottas at 22, Citroën C2 Max driver Christian South, Renault Twingo R2 driver Nick Allen – who continues to commute to the UK from his home in the USA, Evo magazine’s Henry Catchpole in a one-off Twingo drive and Louise Cook, the 2011 British Ladies Champion returning to the BRC in her Ford Fiesta ST.

The Jim Clark Rally continues to be the only competitive event of its kind to be held over closed public roads on the UK mainland and, for 2012, the event sees an extended format. Starting from the centre of Duns on Friday evening, competitors go straight into a stage that takes them through the centre of the town. And, if previous years are anything to go by, spectators will be lining its 1.2-mile route.

After a second run of the same stage before the overnight halt, Saturday comprises a further eight stages over some of Berwickshire’s familiar rally roads, including the infamous 16-miles of Abbey St. Bathans. Five stages follow on Sunday, with a 10.2-mile run through Swinton providing the 15th and final test of the rally before the ceremonial finish in Duns town square at 2.30pm.

For more information on the MSA British Rally Championship visit www.rallybrc.co.uk.