Preivew: Rally Isle of Man – BRC3
- 2nd August 2006, 1:54pm
The Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship faces the challenge of the season's longest event, Rally Isle of Man, on August 3-5 and reigning champion and current points leader Mark Higgins will be eager to score another victory on what is his home rally.
Stobart VK Subaru driver Higgins currently leads the championship by a mere three points from Mitsubishi Motors UK's Ryan Champion and for many two time BRC champion Higgins' experience is the key to him being favourite of the BRC runners on the challenging tarmac roads around the island, including parts of the TT course. However he faces competition just as eager to displace the Isle of Man born driver from his championship top spot.
"It's my home event and it's always been good to me in the past," says Higgins who now lives in Wales. As well as his BRC competition, Higgins faces the challenge of the WRC-spec cars of the Irish Tarmac Championship in the outright results. "An overall podium in the rally may be possible against the WRC cars and I can't wait to be back on the event. It's a fast rally, certainly one of the best tarmac rallies in the world."
The Manx is longer than the other rallies which make up the six round British Rally Championship and the stages are famous the world over. It's a rally that pays experience. "It's the bumps that can catch you out," continues Higgins, "and testing for the event is difficult as it's unique. The only place you can test for the Manx is on the stages of the Manx and that's a bit difficult!"
Although Higgins reckons experience of the event is needed, it is unlikely to be easy for the reigning champion despite what many may think as he faces a field of top level rally drivers, all who have experience on the event. "You need to have done the Manx a couple of times and then you know it well enough to win. Gwyndaf, Ryan, Rory, Jonny all these guys know the event well so it's going to be a real challenge and a treat for the fans."
The championship this season is run to GpN and S1600 regulations and on control Tesco 99 Octane fuel which has meant competition as close as it can be illustrated by the Jim Clark Rally where Higgins and Galligan tied exactly on time after 21 stages evoking the tie-break rule of fastest of the two on the first stage.
Challenging Higgins for the championship lead in the overall standings Ryan Champion sits a mere three points behind Higgins, not bad for a driver who's drive comes as his prize for winning last season's Mitsubishi Evo Challenge. Champion raised eyebrows by winning the season-opening Pirelli International Rally and took third of the BRC drivers on the Jim Clark.
"The Isle of Man should be good," says Champion. "Mark's probably expected to win the event so that helps us as we'll be trying to beat him on his home rally. I'm going to tell him it should be easy for him to win and he should be at least a minute in the lead at the end of the first day. Trying to out-psych him will probably be the best way to beat him there!"
Champion won the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge round on the Manx National Rally last season as well as winning the Group N class so has good experience on the island. "It's a classic BRC round. I can remember watching Tony Pond taking on Walter Rohl on the Manx and it hasn't changed much since then. Our approach will be to start the safe side of flat out and not take too many chances, especially as it's a long event. Then on the second day we can really push."
Sitting in third in the standings and leading this year's Mitsubishi Evo Challenge, is MSA British Rally Elite driver Stuart Jones in the SJR Hankook Mitusbishi Evo IX. Jones and team-mate Gwyndaf Evans come to the Manx after a successful tarmac test in Ireland. "I'm positive coming to the event as the test went really well," says Jones. "The car was set too high on the Jim Clark and we worked on this and getting the set-up right. We made a lot of progress and the Hankook tyres impress us more every time we use them. I want to be as competitive as possible and we should be right on the button from the go this time."
In fourth place in the standings it's been a busy time for Zimbabwean driver Conrad Rautenbach who since the Jim Clark Rally has contested the Zambian International Rally and will contest the South Estonia Rally the weekend before heading to the Isle of Man.
Fifth in the standings, two time champion Jonny Milner hopes to have found extra pace from his Merlin Motorsport Tom Walkinshaw Group MSR-run Mitsubishi Evo IX for the event. "MSR are working flat out to find some more speed in the car, we're looking for outright grunt and response in getting there," says Milner who was forced to sit out last season due to budget constraints, but was able to return to the BRC thanks to the lower costs of the latest regs.
"I like the Manx, it's a classic rally that hasn't got any shorter over the years," says Milner. "I'm extremely disappointed we haven't been able to show our true pace so far this season but we've pulled out all the stops so hopefully we'll be stronger this time."
Currently seventh in the overall driver standings and leading the S1600 class is the ever rapid Guy Wilks who is contesting the championship in his old' Suzuki Ignis S1600. "I'm looking forward to the Manx," says Wilks who currently leads the S1600 standings by five points from Barry Clark. "The Jim Clark didn't really suit our car with the high speed straights but we peddled hard and got a good result. The Manx has plenty of tight twisty stuff and the narrow nimbleness of the Ignis should mean we go well.
Wilks has been a firm supporter of the latest BRC regulations and thinks a S1600 BRC victory could even be a possibility. "How close the times were on the Jim Clark showed the regulations are how it should be, it's working. In the Isle of Man there are not so many long straights so it's possible we could see a S1600 win, I normally go quite well there."
Clark, who drives for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team, believes the team have put the problems they suffered on the Jim Clark Rally behind them. "We spent the Tuesday after the Jim Clark testing and we got the map perfect so we won't be expecting any issues like that again," says Clark of the engine map difficulties he experienced in Scotland.. "We worked on set-up as well and did a fair bit of work on the car, making good improvements for the Manx.
The Isle of Man provides stages which are a real challenge for drivers and Clark can't wait to be out in action. "I love it over there," he says. "Just everything about the event; the atmosphere is superb, the stages are fast and challenging and overall everything about it is fantastic. You're flat out at 110mph in sixth with 10 foot banks alongside you either side, which is something that really concentrates the mind!"
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