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Action at the front of this weekend’s Ulster International Rally may be the focus of everyone’s attention, but there is loads of intrigue and interest in the battles for other categories in the fifth round of the MSA British Rally Championship too.

Three teams are currently striving to add the prestigious MSA British Teams Rally Championship trophy to their cabinets, the current leader Pirelli TEG Sport’s number one Impreza driver Mark Higgins, also jointly leads the Driver’s title chase. The family run team led the Teams’ Championship on the first event back in March, briefly handing the reins to JRM Lico, when current Pirelli Star Driver Adam Gould ended the Pirelli Rally in a Kielder ditch.

Team JRM Lico initially put up a strong fight, with Stuart Jones and David Bogie taking good points in Mitsubishis on round one. Daniel Sigurdarson stepped in to drive Jones’ car on the Pirelli where the team took the lead, moving eleven points ahead. Unfortunately the Teams’ title has since slipped away from the Chesterfield outfit and despite enlisting 1996 BRC Champion Gwyndaf Evans in a second Evo 10, David Bogie will be the only driver scoring points on the Ulster, Evans too late to register.

The final team in the hunt has succumbed to a reduction in available points’ scorers too. The Revolution Wheels Rally Team struggled in the early stages of the Championship. Rob Swann breaking their duck on the Pirelli, but Euan Thorburn and Geoff Jones’ partnership was short-lived, Jones only stepping in for one event. Thorburn now takes on the mantle of sole Revolution Wheels driver on the Ulster, making the quest for the trophy extremely difficult.

Martin McCormack’s “home” BRC event will be his opportunity to take a hat-trick of MSA British Junior Rally Championship victories, having been top youngster on both tarmac events this year.

Second in the race for the MSA gold flag award, which will be presented at the Royal Automobile Club’s Pall Mall headquarters, is Tom Walster. He won the first event, but has taken a while to get used to his new Clio R3 and will hope that perseverance on the Isle of Man has helped his set up for the Northern Irish lanes.

The only other driver to take a Junior win this year is current Fiesta SportTrophy UK and Ireland leader Craig Breen. He won on the gravel of the Pirelli Rally, but has had a couple of non finishes and will need to stay focused to keep in touch with the leaders.

The reigning Pirelli Star Driver Adam Gould continues to make a good fist of his 2009 prize drive, although the momentum of his excellent third place on the Jim Clark Rally was somewhat diminished with a big crash on the Isle of Man.

Nevertheless his stage times have been quite astonishing considering this is his first season in a four wheel drive car and the Pirelli TEG Sport team will be looking for his contribution towards Teams’ points as well as further improvement on the Ulster.

The rally will see another driver added to the four existing nominations of Keith Cronin, Craig Breen, Euan Thorburn and Alastair Fisher. These four young drivers have all proved their potential to the panel of judges and will go forward to the end of season shoot-out, a maximum of nine finalists in with a shout by the end of the season.

Tom Walster leads the BRC’s Rally 3 class, but has scored in two different cars to take the two wins and second place, which have made the bulk of his points haul. He swapped back to his Fiesta for the gravel of the Pirelli to save the new car, but with two tarmac events under his belt, he will be hoping to hold off not just the BRC R3 drivers, but the Clio Euro Trophy runners on the Ulster.

A massive thirty points adrift, Craig Breen needs to win the class on this and the final event in Yorkshire to stand a chance of being in the running. But his goal is fourfold in Ulster; he not only needs to concentrate on the BRC class and Junior title, but he could win the Irish FST on the Antrim lanes and must hold on to his UK FST lead too, truly a tall order.

The only other driver to have won in the R3 class is Finnish hot-shot Matti Rantanen. He has led on each of the four rallies, but over exuberance and lack of experience on British events has led to some spectacular exits in his more conventional two litre production Clio. With an amazing fifth place on the recent Rally Finland, the ninth round of the World Rally Championship, he should be on a high and able to push hard for a win.

Cumbrian Kris Hall has set a storming pace in his Fiesta too, but ended two events off the road and languishes towards the bottom of the points table. He unfortunately managed two crashes on the Isle of Man, one before the start of the rally, the second a proper roll on the first stage.

An excellent third in R3, Steve Graham also continues to battle Fin McCaul for the Diesel Rally Cup, Graham taking first blood when McCaul had transmission problems. McCaul won on the Pirelli but both failed to score on the tarmac of the Jim Clark, the Isle of Man netting win number two for brothers Steve and Tony.

Finally a local tip is young Omagh driver Mark Donnelly who has had a difficult first year in the BRC. He was fourth in R3 on the season opener, but having missed one round and failed to finish on two more, he holds unlucky thirteenth in the standings. However since he lives on the rally’s doorstep and has set some good stage times this year, he is certainly worth keeping an eye on over the Ulster Rally weekend.

The Ulster International Rally starts in Antrim town centre on Friday afternoon, running into the darkness of the evening before re-starting bright and early on Saturday. The finish ceremony will take place back in Antrim at around 6pm after 127 miles of cracking action on some of the most challenging roads in the British Rally Championship.

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For more information on the MSA British Rally Championship visit or its support series, the BRC Challenge at

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