After a six-week summer break, the contest for the 2010 Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship resumes in the forests of Morayshire next Saturday (August 7th).
The Gleaner Oil & Gas Speyside Stages has attracted a top-class entry of more than 120 crews.
As the sixth of eight rounds, the Elgin-based rally is a key event in the countdown to the final championship placings.
Reigning title holder David Bogie – winner of the “Speyside” for the past two years – has three victories so far this season and leads the overall drivers’ standings by five points from Andy Horne.
Eight points separate the Inverness-based driver from third-placed Alick Kerr, who in turn is two points ahead of 2009 championship runner-up Mike Faulkner.
With his victory on last year’s “Speyside”, Bogie matched the achievements of previous “double winners” Dave Weston (2006/2007) and Barry Johnson (2004/2005)
With Kevin Rae on the notes, the Dumfries driver would love to make it a hat-trick in his Mitsubishi Evo 9, but knows that he cannot throw caution to the wind with the Hankook series so finely balanced.
“A win would be nice as no-one has ever won the event three times in a row”, said Bogie: “But at the same time I have to keep one eye on the championship for some good points”.
Second seeds Jock Armstrong and Kirsty Riddick from Castle Douglas will be out to make amends following an opening-stage “off” in their Subaru Impreza on the RSAC Scottish Rally in June.
The non-finish dented their title aspirations, with Armstrong dropping to seventh in the overall drivers’ standings, but he is determined to come out fighting.
Said Armstrong: “We have to win the remaining three rounds if we’re to be in with a shout, so it’s going to be all out attack”.
Mike Faulkner and co-driver Peter Foy start third in their Mitsubishi Evo 6 – the pair aiming to maintain their consistent run on the “Speyside” in recent years. They were runners-up twelve months ago, following a third place finish in 2008.
The Kirtlebridge-based driver powered to a hard-earned second on the last round – declaring that the result “sets us up nicely for Elgin”.
The top three will face strong competition from Borders ace and BRC contender Euan Thorburn in a Mitsubishi Evo 9.
It will be Thorburn’s second Scottish event this season, and although not eligible for points, he will be pushing for overall honours alongside co-driver Paul Beaton.
The Duns driver was elevated to third last year following the exclusion of Armstrong and Riddick after their Impreza was adjudged to be in breach of Group N regulations.
Fifth seed Alick Kerr will be without his regular navigator Neil Shanks – who is clerk of the course for the “Speyside”.
His place will be taken by another highly experienced co-driver, Dave Robson – himself a two-time winner of the event alongside Dave Weston.
Kerr has remained a championship contender, despite being dogged by mechanical problems throughout the season.
The Lanarkshire junior was just pipped for third on the “Scottish”, after he experienced severe vibrations from the rear of his Subaru Impreza over the final few miles of the last stage.
It was later discovered that the problems resulted from a knock on the shakedown stage on the eve of the rally, when the car hit a rock, bent a wheel and broke a drop link. The wishbone had been pushed back 20mm and the shock had travelled through the driveshaft and damaged the gearbox.
“We had to source a complete 6-speed gearbox just to get the bellhousing”, said Kerr: “Hopefully, the problem will be fixed by the time we get to Elgin, and we’ll just keep going while we still have an outside chance of the title”.
The Oban duo of Shaun Sinclair and Chris Hamill come off the back of a dominant victory on the inaugural Rally of Argyll, and will be looking for at least a top-five spot in Elgin after finishing sixth last year..
Sinclair currently leads the Hankook Group N driver in his Mitsubishi Evo 9, and also has the chance to take fifth spot in the overall standings from Lancastrian Wayne Sisson whom he trails by a single point.
The Carnforth-based rally preparation expert is contesting the “Speyside” for the first time in his Evo 9, as he nears the end of his first full Hankook SRC season.
“We’re confident we’ve fixed the problem that caused the poor stage times on the Scottish, so we’ll be looking for a good trouble free run on what is another new event for me”, said Sisson, who will again be co-driven by David MacFadyen from Inverness.
They start one car behind 1998 “Speyside” winners Andy Horne and Jim Howie, who, with four top-ten finishes so far this year, will be looking to consolidate their strong position in the championship.
Horne has been delighted with the performance of his re-engined DAM 4100GTi over the course of the five completed events.
Leading Hankook Junior driver David Wilson from Alness and Laurencekirk-based navigator Drew Sturrock are another crew who will be pushing for top honours.
Third place on the Scottish was Wilson’s best ever SRC result and followed a fourth and fifth overall on previous rounds.
“Obviously we were very happy with our performance on the last round, and we’ll be looking to improve on that”, said Sturrock: “Hopefully we will be closer, and not having to stop for dust – as was the case on the “Scottish” – will be a big bonus”.
The top ten starters are rounded off by the experienced Cumbrian pairing of Paul Benn and Richard Cooke in their Ford Focus WRC.
They have contested two SRC events this season: earning a sixth-place finish on the Granite City, followed by a fourth on the Jim Clark Reivers – and most recently they were runners-up on the Rally of Argyll.
Stonehaven’s Barry Groundwater and Daniel Paterson – who powered to fifth overall on the “Scottish” in their Mitsubishi Evo 9 – start one car ahead of the leading Escort Mk2 crew of Steve Bannister and Louise Sutherland, who will be pushing to improve on their tenth overall in Elgin a year ago.
Inverurie’s Calum Mackenzie, with Alan Clark on the notes, is back in action – although whether he will be at the wheel of his trusty Escort or a Mitsubishi Evo is still to be disclosed.
Jim Carty and Reay Mackay follow on in their Subaru Impreza WRC’s – the latter having debuted his car on the “Argyll”, where he finished sixth.
SRC regulars John Morrison, Donnie Macdonald, Malloch Nicoll and Craig McMiken are all seeded in the top twenty in their respective Evo 9′s.
Meanwhile, the 2008 Scottish champion Jimmy Girvan will swap seats and co-drive for fellow Invernessian Steven Campbell in an Evo 5.
In the fiercely contested 1600 category, Carluke’s Graeme Schoneville, co-driven by Forres-based Phil Coulby, has the chance to extend his advantage at the top of the standings in his Honda Civic.
There is also all to play for in the SRC Junior rankings, where Class 3 leader Steven Smith of East Kilbride – in a Peugeot 205 Gti - leads Schoneville by a single point.
In Class 2, Mike Rae/Chris MacAulay (MG ZR) will be looking to ward off a challenge from Fraser Wilson/Steven Broll in a Vauxhall Nova – the Port William driver currently trailing the Invernessian by eight points after five rounds.
Competitors will tackle eight special stages totalling just over 44 miles.
They start with two blasts through the popular spectator stage at Cooper Park in Elgin, before heading out to the forest tests of Tauchers Wood, Longbank, Balloch, Gartly Moor, Cat’s Craig and Whiteash. Servicing will be based at the Huntly Auction Mart.
For details, go to http://www.speyside-stages.co.uk
News of all SRC rounds can be found at http://www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk
SPEYSIDE STAGES – TOP TWENTY SEEDS
1 David Bogie (Dumfries) Kevin Rae (Hawick) Mitsubishi EVO 9
2 Jock Armstrong (Castle Douglas)/ Kirsty Riddick (Castle Douglas) Subaru Impreza
3 Mike Faulkner (Lockerbie)/ Peter Foy (Bingley) Mitsubishi EVO 6
4 Euan Thorburn (Duns) Paul Beaton ( Inverness) Mitsubishi EVO 9
5 Alick Kerr (Bothwell)/Dave Robson (Jedburgh) Subaru Impreza
6 Shaun Sinclair (Oban)/Chris Hamill (Kilmore) Mitsubishi EVO 9
7 Andy Horne (Inverness)/ Jim Howie (Kilmarnock) DAM 4100 Gti
8 Wayne Sisson (Burton in Kendal)/ David MacFadyen (Inverness) Mitsubishi EVO 9
9 David Wilson (Alness) Drew Sturrock (Laurencekirk) Mitsubishi EVO 9
10 Paul Benn (Cockermouth)/Richard Cooke (Keswick) Ford Focus
11 Barry Groundwater (Stonehaven)/ Daniel Paterson (Stonehaven) Mitsubishi EVO 9
12 Steve Bannister (Malton)/ Louise Sutherland (Hawick) Ford Escort Mk2
14 Calum MacKenzie (Inverurie)/ Alan Clark (Glasgow) TBA
15 Jim Carty (Elderslie)/ Ian Fraser (Salen) Subaru Impreza WRC
16 Reay MacKay(Fort Augustus)/Robert MacDonald(Fort Augustus) Subaru Impreza WRC
17 Donnie MacDonald (Inverness)/ Keir Beaton (Inverness) Mitsubishi EVO 9
18 John Morrison (Conon Bridge)/ Peter Carstairs (St Andrews) Mitsubishi EVO 9
19 Malloch Nicoll (Dundee)/ TBA Mitsubishi EVO 9
20 Craig McMiken (Newton Stewart)/Christine Sanderson (Berwick) Mitsubishi EVO 9