BRC teams target Higgins
- 30th August 2006, 8:40am
The Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship heads to Ulster this weekend for the fourth round of the championship and competitors have one thing on their minds, beating reigning champion Mark Higgins.
The Stobart VK Subaru Rally Team driver has won the last two BRC events and has a considerable points lead in the drivers' standings with 85 to nearest rival Ryan Champion's 52. However, there is a drop score to be considered in the final reckoning at the end of the six round championship.
Higgins seemingly dominated his BRC rivals on Rally Isle of Man at the beginning of August, but the Manx-born driver reckons there is more to come from his Stobart VK Subaru Impreza.
"There's room for improvement on the set-up and I think the Ulster will be closer than the Manx," says two time BRC champion, Higgins. "We'll have to see what happens."
In second spot in the BRC drivers' standings is Mitsubishi Motors UK's Ryan Champion. The reigning Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge champion took victory in the season opening Pirelli International Rally but last time out it was a non-finish for Champion and team-mate Rory Galligan. Champion knows he needs a good result in Armagh, but doesn't underestimate the challenge.
"Ulster's renowned for changeable weather, but after the Manx I don't know how it could be much worse," says Champion, whose drive with the works Mitsubishi squad comes as his prize for winning the Evo Challenge.
"The Manx was not a good weekend for us. I would like to have had the drop score in my pocket, but everything's to play for now. We need a strong result and it really makes it an interesting one as its so crucial."
Champion's team-mate, Rory Galligan, made a WRC foray by competing with an impressive performance on Neste Oil Rally Finland. Whilst the Ulster can be seen as Galligan's home rally, it's not one where he has enjoyed any particular luck.
"It's going to be a tough event," he says. "The Isle of Man was obviously disappointing but the Ulster has never been kind to me, I've never finished in a good points position. It's a short, sharp event and you've got to be wide awake on Saturday morning, there's no chance to bed yourself in."
Leading the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge, the prize of which is a works drive for the Mitsubishi Motors UK works team in the 2007 British Rally Championship, is two-time BRC champion, Jonny Milner.
The Team Merlin International driver certainly agrees that the Ulster can be a difficult event to master. "We've had good times and bad times," says the Yorkshireman. "In 2004 we went straight through a gate and got stuck in the mud. It's a tricky rally, one you have to respect. You need a fairly compliant car to compromise for the jumps and bumps. I need to score for the Evo Challenge prize so I'll have that in mind."
On driver many are tipping to be quick once more is Welshman Gwyndaf Evans in the SJR Hankook squad. After his strong run on the Manx was curtailed, Evans is modest about his prospects in Armagh. "It can be a lot more muddy and slippery than the Isle of Man," he says. "There are more jumps on the Ulster too but just like the Manx it's notoriously tricky, we'll have to see how it goes."
In the Super 1600 class it looks like second in the points driver Barry Clark has been handed a gift with the non-participation of current points leader, Guy Wilks. The Suzuki driver from Darlington never originally intended to contest the Ulster and late plans to use the latest Suzuki Swift appear not to have come off meaning Scot Clark stands a good chance of taking the points lead should he get a good result.
"I'm looking forward to the Ulster," says Clark. "We used the Pendragon as preparation for the Ulster and we tried all sorts of tyre combinations. I've done a rally every weekend since the Isle of Man, but you never can have too much rallying."
Clark's Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team team-mate Roman Kresta is hoping for a change of luck especially after his first stage exit from Rally Isle of Man. "The last result was not so good," says the experienced WRC competitor.. "I will definitely be more cautious on stage one of the Ulster and drive carefully there."
Although Guy Wilks is not expected to be in action for Suzuki, James Wozencroft will certainly be in action. "I've never been there before but I'm definitely looking forward to it," he says. "I'll be pushing a lot harder and hopefully we'll have a bit more consistency."
The Philip White Tyres Ulster Rally takes place over 125 miles stage miles starting on the evening of Friday 1st September and finishing on the following afternoon. It is the fourth round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship. The following round takes place on the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire on Saturday 7th October.
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