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The second round of this year’s MSA British Rally Championship takes place this Friday and Saturday, when competitors make their way to Welshpool for the Bulldog Rally of North Wales. The event also marks the second round of the new-look BRC, with its innovative and forward-thinking format that allows only two-wheel-drive cars to compete for the prestigious British titles.

If there was any question as to whether the new two-wheel-drive formula would provide exciting competition, it was well and truly answered on last month’s opening round, the Bournemouth and Poole based Rallye Sunseeker. Throughout the day-long rally the battle for the overall lead between Mark Donnelly from Omagh in his Renault Clio R3 and Finland’s Jarkko Nikara in his Citroën DS3 R3was never separated by more than four-seconds.

In fact, after nine of the event’s 12 stages, both drivers were on exactly the same time – to the tenth-of-second! Eventually the dice rolled in Donnelly’s favour, when Nikara’s car coasted to a halt after his car lost power on the penultimate stage. This weekend sees Nikara start as number three seed, with Donnelley ahead of him at two.

Carrying number one on the door after winning The Bulldog Rally of North Wales last year is Elfyn Evans, who’s Ford Fiesta not only brought him home in third place in round one, but also allowed him to scoop honours in a class that was almost as fiercely fought as that of the leaders. Needless to say Evans, who’s from Dinas Mawddwy, will be looking to stay on the podium this weekend in what is regarded as his home event, even though the R2 Fiesta is not as powerful as the R3 machinery around it.

Other Welsh drivers looking to score well on their local soil will be Osian Pryce from Aberangall, who finished an impressive fourth first-time out in his Citroën DS3 and starts at number five this weekend. Debuting his similar car on this event – and running next on the road – will be Aberdovey’s Tom Cave who, although driving a Fiesta R2 in round one whilst his new DS3 was being built, finished a credible seventh and will also be aiming for the accolade of being ‘best Welshman’ this time round.

And, if form on the Rallye Sunseeker is anything to go by, a definite front-runner, who is seeded at four this weekend, will be Northern Ireland’s Desi Henry – another Citroën DS3 pilot – who finished an excellent second in round one.

A driver hoping for greater things for the Bulldog Rally will be Jukka Korhonen who starts as car seven. For a time, the reigning Pirelli Star Driver in his Škoda Fabia R2 led his class in round one, until a throttle sensor forced the talented Finn into a frustrating retirement on the final stage.

This left Jussi Kumpumäki to uphold national honour by being the first Finn home, the Ford Fiesta R2 driver crossing the line in sixth place. He starts at eight. Next to go is WRC Academy contender Alastair Fisher from Trillick, who will be hoping for better fortunes in his Ford Fiesta after suffering terminal gearbox problems in round one.

Rounding off the top-ten and underlining that the British Rally Championship is a truly international affair is Vincent Dubert from France, driving a Citroën DS3. Additional overseas competitors appearing in North Wales include: Niko-Pekka Nieminen from Finland (Ford Fiesta R2), Steve Røkland from Norway (Ford Fiesta R1), Nick Allen from the USA (Renault Twingo R2), Egon Kaur from Estonia (Ford Fiesta R2) and the welcome return of twice British Champion, Keith Cronin from Eire (Renault Twingo R1).

Other notable entries come from James Grint – brother of Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame – who makes his MSA British Rally Championship debut this weekend. And, returning to the BRC to start his 2012 campaign in Wales, is regular front-runner from last season Jonny Greer. Both will be driving brand new Citroën DS3 R3s.

Added to the drivers mentioned here, there’s plenty more who could well feature in the top-ten this weekend, as the BRC’s new two-wheel-drive format creates close competition and encourages talent to rise to the top. And, confirming the fact that the British Rally Championship is a proving ground for up-and-coming champions, statistics reveal that the average age of drivers in this year is just 23!

The Bulldog Rally of North Wales commences with a ceremonial start in the centre of Welshpool on Friday evening and, following the announcement this week that Friday night’s two stages in Dyfnant Forest have had to have been cancelled for economic reasons, all of the action will take place on Saturday.

The 80-miles of competition will see the International field of 30 competitors tackle nine special stages in forests that are regarded as classic rally venues, such as: Gartheiniog, Dyfi, Penllyn (Aberhirnant) and Dyfnant East. The event finishes in Welshpool from 18.57.

MSA BRITISH MANUFACTURERS RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Moments before the start of the Rallye Sunseeker, news broke that Ford was to join Renault and Citroën as a registered manufacturers in this year’s BRC. This means that the coveted MSA British Manufacturers’ title now a three-way battle between the brands.

Scores towards the title are calculated from the two leading cars from each of the manufacturers and, after the first round, Renault top the table with 34-points, Citroën is second with 33 and Ford lie third with a score of 29.

MSA BRITISH JUNIOR RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Underpinning the BRC’s commitment to reward its rising stars, a new-look Junior Championship has been introduced for this season. Open to drivers of 23 and under in Class 10 (R1) cars, this initiative sees the winner recognised with the prestigious title of MSA British Junior Champion.

Targeting glory – and winner on the Rallye Sunseeker – is 20-year old Garry Pearson from the Borders, who steps up to a full BRC campaign this season as 2011 BRC Challenge Star of the Future in an R1 Renault Twingo. He will be challenged this weekend by Norway’s Steve Røkland in a Fiesta, who wasn’t able to score in round one and will therefore be trying hard to make up for lost ground.

PIRELLI STAR DRIVER
This year’s Pirelli Star Driver competition again selects a winner from each round. Each of the six winners then go forward to an end-of-season shootout where they can win a Pirelli funded prize designed to boost their progression in the sport.

After the podium presentations had taken place in Bournemouth last month, it was announced that rally victor Mark Donnelly had also won the coveted Pirelli yellow jersey and a nomination towards the end-of-season final shoot-out. And, at the finish of the Bulldog Rally on Saturday evening, the second yellow jersey winner will be announced.

BRC TEAMS CUP
The new-format BRC Teams Cup is aimed at professional motorsport teams running two cars and this year five have registered.  Drivers are pre-nominated, but can change from event-to-event. All six rounds count towards the final championship classification.

Unfortunately for the Millers Oils 586 Team, with Callum Black failing to finish due to an accident on stage eight, they came away from the first event without any points. It also means that the team does not appear with their Suzuki Swift this weekend.

Adding its name to the list of teams on this event is Davies Motorsport Services, who will be running the Citroën DS3s of Osian Pryce and Tom Cave. Based in Welshpool – less than a mile from the rally’s headquarters – the team is hoping that local knowledge may provide them with a distinct advantage.

Topping the Teams’ table after round one is M-Sport Ford with 20 points, after Elfyn Evans’ impressive third place – and even taking into account their team mate Alistair Fisher’s retirement. The Ford Finnish Junior Team comprise Jussi Kumpumäki and Niko Nieminen and, although only one of them finished the Rallye Sunseeker, the team currently hold second in the standings with 20 points.

The accrued scores from Gethin Jones’ tenth place, added to the 12th of Matt Cotton – both in Fiestas – sees the AVS Motorsport team in fourth on 16 points. And, as the oldest driver in the BRC this year, at 41 Jones proved a point with Class 8 victory after several years away from the sport.

Arron Newby‘s excellent 13th place on his BRC debut in his Škoda Fabia, means that the Pirelli TEG Sport team hold fifth with 15 points – although it could have been more if it wasn’t for team mate Jukka Korhonen’s 11th hour departure.

BRC ONE-MAKES SERIES
The MSA British Rally Championship also features three, one-make series: The Fiesta SportTrophy, the Twingo Renaultsport R1 & R2 Trophies UK and the Citroën Racing Trophy UK. Current leaders following the Rallye Sunseeker are: Elfyn Evans, Garry Pearson and Desi Henry respectively.

FOLLOW THE ACTION!
For further information news about the MSA British Rally Championship, visit http://www.rallybrc.co.uk

For live information, photos, driver quotes and results, download the BRC App by searching ‘British Rally Championship’ in the App store.

British Rally Radio will be broadcasting for the duration of the event and can be access via the website or the App.

Greenlight Television’s Bulldog Rally North Wales preview will air this Wednesday evening at opm n Sky Sports 3 & 3HD also showing coverage of the cups, trophies, classes and support series from round one, Rallye Sunseeker.

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

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