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With just a few days to go before the third round of this year’s MSA British Rally Championship, teams are now preparing for one of the most challenging events in the calendar: the Pirelli International Rally. Why challenging? Because all of the rally’s competitive mileage takes place in the infamous Kielder Forest, its well-trodden gravel roads holding a reputation for rewarding the brave and punishing those who dare to make a mistake.

With two different winners emerging and fierce battles raging throughout the field in February’s International Rallye Sunseeker and March’s Bulldog International Rally of North Wales, the BRC’s innovative and forward-thinking two-wheel-drive only formula has generated close and exciting competition. Therefore, much anticipation hangs in the air as to who will come out on top this time around.

After winning round one Mark Donnelly looked like he was going to be the man to beat in round two. But a sizeable off at the end of the second stage handed the opportunity to his rivals. Tom Cave’s seventh place on the Sunseeker in a Ford Fiesta R2 and resounding home win in North Wales driving a Citroën DS3 R3 means that he now tops the championship tables ahead of this weekend’s round three.

But snapping at the two winners’ heels in terms of stage times has been a host of drivers: Jarkko Nikara, who retired from round one whilst battling for the lead but finished third in round two; twice-British Champion Keith Cronin, who drove an Renault Twingo R1 in round one and then missed out on the win by just 0.3 seconds in a Citroën DS3 R3 in Wales; Osian Pryce, who has claimed two fourth places in his similar car and Desi Henry, who has scored a second and an eighth place respectively – also in a Citroën – and now holds fourth in the championship standings.

Up amongst the leaders is Elfyn Evans who, despite not having the luxury of R3 power in his Ford Fiesta R2, has been able to achieve a third and a fifth-place finish so far. Consequently, he now holds equal second place with Pryce in the drivers’ points table to make it an all-Welsh top three.

Currently lying fifth in the standings is Peter Taylor, who is gathering pace in his Renault Clio R3 and is another driver in with a shot of a podium position this weekend. With fellow Clio pilot Donnelly in sixth, seventh is held by Matthew Cathcart, who is also second in Class 6 with his Ford Fiesta R2.

Cronin is eighth and likely to improve on his position – even though he is acclimatising himself to another new team, having recently swapped to Autosport Technology. One of five drivers from Scandinavia (four from Finland and one from Norway) contesting this year’s MSA British Rally Championship is ninth-placed Jarkko Nikara and the Finn is another likely to move up the points table.

First in Class 8 and rounding off the top-ten overall is Gethin Jones in his Fiesta ST, whilst in 11th is third Class 6 runner Jussi Kumpumäki with his Fiesta R2. The Finn shares the place with Citroën driver Jonny Greer, with both of them just ahead of the third-placed Finn Jukka Korhonen – the Pirelli Star Driver looking for a more productive outing this time round in his Škoda Fabia R2.

Following retirements in both rallies so far this season, Northern Irish Fiesta R2 driver Alastair Fisher has not given up and will be aiming to get points on the board by close of play. Unable to score this weekend are three of the 27 registered BRC drivers who are having to sit this one out: Callum Black (Suzuki Swift), Jack Rowe (Ford Fiesta) and Christian South (Citroën C2). However, all are aiming to return for round four, the Jim Clark Rally on 1st & 2nd June.

Starting and finishing in Carlisle, this year sees the Pirelli Rally celebrate its 21st year of title sponsorship from the world-renowned tyre manufacturer. And, to mark this significant anniversary, event organisers have created a rally village at the host venue of Carlisle Racecourse, which includes static displays, trade stands and entertainment.

The show opens this Friday (27th April) afternoon in advance of an autograph session with the drivers and co-drivers in the centre of Carlisle from 18:00hrs, followed by the rally start at 19.00hrs. Competitors then head to the forests for a 6.3-mile stage before a regroup in nearby Newcastleton village. Then, when darkness falls, a second run of the same stage takes place before the overnight halt.

Saturday sees a further ten stages, punctuated by a 20-minute service halt at Carlisle Racecourse at 13.00. And, after covering a total competitive distance of 95-miles, the BRC crews return to the racecourse exactly 24-hours after they started, the rally finish concluding this weekend of celebrations.

MSA BRITISH MANUFACTURERS RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
This year’s MSA British Manufacturers’ title is a three-way battle between the brands: Citroën, Renault and Ford. Scores towards the title are calculated from the two leading cars from each of the manufacturers and, following round two, Citroën UK tops the table with 71-points, Renault UK is second on 61, with Ford Motor Company a close third on 60.

Whilst the demanding nature of the Kielder Forest stages may throw a curve ball as far as the outcome of the manufacturer’s battle in concerned, the increase in the number of Citroën DS3s, due to the bonuses offered for drivers registered for the Citroën Racing Trophy, looks to have given the French brand the upper hand in this category. However, the Renault Clios of Donnelly and Taylor have shown they have the pace to match their R3 rivals, whilst the strength in numbers of Fiestas means there’s always likely to be Fords in high points scoring positions – even if they are slightly less powerful R2 Class cars.

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.

20-year old R1 Renault Twingo driver Garry Pearson has won on both occasions this year, which means he holds a comfortable lead with 40 points over his rival Steve Røkland on 18, Following a no-score by the 19-year old Norwegian on the first round and then being slowed by two punctures on the second, he will be aiming to make up for lost ground this weekend in his Ford Fiesta R1.

PIRELLI STAR DRIVER
This year’s Pirelli Star Driver competition again selects a winner from each round. Each of the six winners will 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.

So far it’s been the two rally winners that have been awarded the yellow jersey and a nomination towards the end-of-season finale. Mark Donnelly was bestowed the accolade for round one and Tom Cave for round two, with a third driver due to be selected to join these two worthy recipients on Saturday evening at Carlisle Racecourse.

BRC TEAMS CUP
The new-format BRC Teams Cup is aimed at professional motorsport teams running two cars. Six teams are currently registered.

Drivers are pre-nominated, but can change from event-to-event. All six rounds count towards the final championship classification, with the first of the teams’ two cars scoring points.

Davies Motorsport Services were very pleased they joined up just ahead of the Bulldog Rally, as their drivers Tom Cave and Osian Pryce finished first and fourth. Therefore, DMS was the highest scoring team on the event and as such, went from zero to 20-points on the first time of asking.

Currently leading the BRC Teams Cup is M-Sport Ford, following Elfyn Evans’ maximum points haul in round one and a second in the category in round two. Evans’ team-mate Alastair Fisher has been struck by misfortune so far this season and therefore has yet to be in a position to score for his team.

In second place is another pair of Fiestas, that of Ford Junior Team Finland and its drivers Jussi Kumpumäki and Niko Nieminen. So far Kumpumäki has been the points scorer, with a second on the Rallye Sunseeker and a fourth on the Bulldog Rally.

Pirelli TEG Sport is in third place with its two Skoda Fabias, driven by Arron Newby and reigning Pirelli Star Driver Jukka Korhonen. Whilst Newby was the Teams Cup points-winner in round one with a fourth place finish, it was Korhonen who did the honours in round two with a third.

The third Fiesta team registered is AVS Motorsport, albeit with two Class 8 STs as opposed to the more contemporary Class 6 models campaigned by the other two teams. With a score of 30-points accrued from this season’s two events, its Gethin Jones who has carried the baton so far, as opposed to his AVS Motorsport team-mate Matt Cotton.

With Davies Motorsport Services fifth and likely to improve on its position this weekend, it’s the Millers Oils 586 Team who hold sixth and are yet to score following Callum Black’s spectacular exit from the Rallye Sunseeker. However, the team hopes to have its Suzuki Swift repaired and back in action in time for the Jim Clark Rally.

RAVENOL OILS BRC PRIVATEERS CUP
For competitors who compete outside of one of the six official teams, the Ravenol Oils BRC Privateers Cup allows 18 out of the 27 registered drivers to score points towards this recently introduced category. Following his second place in round one and a fourth in round two, it’s Irish driver Desi Henry who leads the battle of the privateers ahead of the third round.

Englishman Peter Taylor is next up after scoring fourth and fifth places in the category so far, with Matthew Cathcart from Northern Ireland third following his sixth and seventh place finishes up to now. However, top scoring privateers for rounds one and two Mark Donnelly and Keith Cronin are likely to be mounting a challenge for category honours this weekend, having each collected points from just one of the two events.

BRC ONE-MAKES SERIES
The MSA British Rally Championship also features three, one-make series: The Citroën Racing Trophy UK, Fiesta SportTrophy and the Twingo Renaultsport R1 & R2 Trophies UK.

Following the Bulldog Rally of North Wales, Desi Henry and Osian Pryce jointly lead the Citroën series, Elfyn Evans tops the Fiesta tables, whilst Garry Pearson and Nick Allen head the R1 and R2 Twingo Renaultsport Trophies 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, radio coverage and results, the BRC App can be downloaded by searching ‘British Rally Championship’ in the iTunes App store or on Google Play.

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

Coverage from the Bulldog Rally North Wales classes as well as a preview of the Pirelli International Rally will air this Wednesday (25th April) on Sky Sports 4 & 4HD at 18:00hrs with the event coverage on Sky Sports 2 & 2HD on Monday 30th at 21:30hrs.

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

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