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Following an 11-week summer break, teams competing in the MSA British Rally Championship are back in action next weekend for round five, the Todds Leap International Rally NI. Based in Antrim, the event takes place on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th August on closed roads in the Counties of Antrim and Londonderry and represents the second of two asphalt rallies this season’s six-round BRC calendar.

The International Rally NI forms part of the overall Ulster Rally, which is sponsored by Todds Leap outdoor activity centre. As well as hosting the MSA British Rally Championship, the event also features the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge and a series of national rallies that encompass rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship, the MSA British Historic Rally Championship and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.

The phrase ‘it’s anyone’s race’ is often over used, but in the battle between the British Rally Championship crews it’s not, as the change to a two-wheel-drive only formula this season has provided some of the closest ever competition in the Championship’s 54-year history. Out of the four rounds that have taken place so far, the role of honour has seen three different winners, with Bantry’s Keith Cronin the only driver to have claimed victory on more than one occasion.

Whilst his commanding performance in round four – the Jim Clark Rally – may make him favorite for the top step of the BRC podium in Ulster, the Citroën DS3 driver accepts that it won’t be easy and his aspirations to net a third British title could be influenced next weekend. Even with two wins under his belt, Cronin goes to Ulster lying second in the championship standings, albeit just two points behind joint leaders, Elfyn Evans and Tom Cave.

Whilst Cave from Aberdovey – also driving a Citroën DS3 – has been a winner in the UK this season by taking a home victory on the Bulldog Rally of North Wales (round two), he has also tasted success overseas when he won July’s Rally of Thailand outright driving for Proton. For his fellow countryman Evans from Dinas Mawddwy, it’s been supreme consistency of pace in his less-powerful Class 6 (R2 category) Ford Fiesta that has given him the mantle of joint-championship leader with just two rounds remaining.

Evans comes to Northern Ireland fresh from his convincing WRC Academy victory on last weekend’s Rally Finland, a result that sees him head the points table for this global series as well as the BRC. Another Fiesta driver and WRC Academy front-runner – who was lying second in Finland until a throttle problem struck – is Trillick’s Alastair Fisher, who returns to the BRC fold for his home event and will certainly be looking for better luck, having scored just one finish in the Championship so far this season.

Adding his name to the list of possible Class 6 (R2) winners is another twice-British Champion Guy Wilks. The former JWRC and IRC contender returning to the BRC for the first time since 2008 when he guest-drives Renaultsport’s Twingo R2 Evolution.

Currently lying fourth in the BRC standings is Mark Donnelly. The Omagh driver will be doing all he can next weekend to close the gap of 11-points between him and the championship leaders and will be desperate not to experience a repeat of the misfire that plagued him on the Jim Clark Rally two months ago – and during last year’s Rally NI too!

Osian Pryce from Machynlleth is next in the points table, five behind Donnelly and another man who is hoping to get back to his early-season form. Behind the Welsh Citroën DS3 driver is Northern Irish Citroën DS3 driver Jonny Greer from Carryduff. He currently shares sixth place with Carlisle Renault Clio driver Peter Taylor who is unable to make it to Ulster this year.

There’s also a tie for eighth position currently, with Portglenone’s Desi Henry hoping he can make the most of a home advantage in his Citroën DS3. He shares his points total with the highest placed Finnish driver Jukka Korhonen, the reigning Pirelli Star Driver hoping that he can score his first Class 6 (R2) victory in his Skoda Fabia.

Rounding off the top-ten championship positions is another competitor from Finland Jarkko Nikara. Having challenged for the overall lead in all of this season’s four events, the Citroën DS3 driver’s tenth place is certainly not a reflection of his pace and, due to a recent spell of bad luck, he is another who has opted to miss next weekend’s event.

Other Citroën drivers that will be looking to make up for lost time next weekend will be Callum Black from Brackley, who is contesting his second event in his new DS3. Although having his similar car since the beginning of the year, James Grint admits that he is still honing his tarmac skills and hopes to have a less eventful run than he did a few weeks ago in the Scottish Borders.

Moving from ones to watch in Class 5 (R3) to those competing in Class 6 (R2): just outside of the top-ten in the standings – following his impressive performance on the Jim Clark Rally – is Enniskillen Fiesta driver Matthew Cathcart and is another that hopes a home crowd will spur him on. However, he will have to fend-off the challenge from the two Finnish Fiesta chargers Jussi Kumpumaki and Nimo-Pekka Nieminen, both looking for a clean run this time around following accidents of varying severity in Berwickshire.

Another aiming to climb the Class 6 rankings will be Arron Newby, who’s Skoda Fabia has been repaired following its roll on the Jim Clark Rally. Pleasingly, the youngster’s confidence has been somewhat restored following his third outright victory this year at a single-venue event. Others hoping to make an impression in the R2 category next weekend will be Ayr’s Ruary MacLeod and Hoddeston’s Alex Parpottas – both in Fiestas – plus Renault Twingo Evolution driver Chris Ingram from Manchester, who showed good pace on asphalt last time around.

Whilst Class 10 (R1) will be fought-out by the two Junior drivers of Garry Pearson from Duns in his Renault Twingo and Steve Røckland from Norway in this Ford Fiesta, the only runner in Class 8 is Gethin Jones from Cheptow in his Fiesta ST.

BRC organisers are pleased to report that making their British Rally Championship debut next weekend will be Ballinamallard’s Jonny Leonard and the not-so-local Stephen Turner from Tasmania – both driving Ford Fiestas R2s. Unfortunately, following a significant accident in the closing stages of the Jim Clark Rally, another long-distance traveller – Nick Allen from the USA – will not be making an appearance in Ulster.

The Todds Leap International Rally NI is based at Antrim’s Junction 1 retail outlet park which, as well as providing the venue of the service area, is also the location for the rally’s start and finish. At 13.00 on Friday cars leave the shopping centre for a leg of six stages and 50 competitive miles in the afternoon and evening, before returning to Antrim for the overnight halt at 21.00. A further eight stages totaling 72-miles take place on Saturday, with the finish scheduled to take place at 17.20 back at Junction 1.

For live information, photos, driver quotes, radio coverage and results, the BRC App can be downloaded by searching ‘British Rally Championship’ in the App Store or Google Play.

Podcasts from the event were recorded by British Rally Radio and can be accessed from the rallyfm.net website.

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

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