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The 55th MSA British Rally Championship (BRC) season should have been underway back on Rally North Wales in early April, but like March’s BRC Media Day, the weather had other ideas.

So this weekend (4/5 May) the Pirelli Richard Burns Foundation Rally temporarily resumes its position as the 2013 series opener, with the tension and excitement even more palpable than a month ago.

The reigning and triple BRC champ Keith Cronin has proved his point and has left the door wide open to a brand new champion to take the mantle – or has he? Most of the youngsters who battled it out last year are back with victory in mind, along with a raft of new faces too, but a certain Irishman has not ruled out an occasional appearance – how very Sébastien Loeb of him!

So from the hard at work rumour-mill to facts:
Fact: Northern Irishman Mark Donnelly will drive the Pirelli Star Driver prize Citroën DS3 R3 and is more than capable of winning, taking round one last year and leading in Wales until a big off put a stop to his charge.

Fact: Tom Cave will also drive a Citroën DS3 R3 and did what Donnelly threatened. The local lad won his first BRC event in Welshpool and finished the season with a nail-biting victory in Yorkshire to boot.

Fact: Osian Pryce is back in yet another Citroën DS3 R3 (there’s a pattern forming here). He was sooooo close to victory in Yorkshire, finishing on the same tenth of a second as Cave. But the-tie break went to Cave by a tenth – the margin between them on the opening stage.

Fact: Finnish Jukka Korhonen has vowed to win the 2013 BRC at the wheel of a – you guessed it – DS3. He may not have featured in the overall standings in his Pirelli Star Driver year, but he was good enough to win it and will compete in the top class this year.

Fact: Alastair Fisher has been there and done that, rising through the ranks of two and four wheel drive and with plenty of international experience. He is capable of winning too, but has missed out on the top spot in the past. By his own admission this is his last chance at the title, flat out or bust!

Fact: Jonny Greer already has a podium place or five under his belt and aside from a sabbatical in 2009, has not finished lower that fifth in the British Rally Championship in five years. Talent and tenacity will tell for the Ulsterman.

Fact: England and Scotland have buried the hatchet in the form of a new team. Culina Palletforce Racing features Scotsman John MacCrone and Englishman Peter Taylor, both with experience of the BRC and both stating their desire to win the championship. Steady boys – there can be only one winner!

Fact: Desi Henry has Citroën titles under his belt and plenty of BRC experience. With a second place on last year’s Rallye Sunseeker, he has a head start on several of this year’s crop of DS3 drivers with a season in the car already.

..and there are plenty more too, like Renault interloper Joe McGonigle and a ruck of R2 flyers, just look at the ENTRY LIST, but stay away from the betting shop, because it will almost certainly be too difficult to call.

Cronin’s victory in 2009 (Mitsubishi), 2012 (Subaru) and 2012 (Citroën) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a natural talent in any car. But he’ll be the first to admit that the competition was particularly hot last year. The re-introduction of two wheel drive cars has enabled this, coupled with a continued Pirelli control tyre and Sunoco control fuel to make the playing field even more level. So with all but one of the thirteen top seeded crews in Citroën DS3s, the playing field is flatter than ever.

The event formats make a difference too, gone is the era of gruelling multi-day rallies of the mid 80s with 30+ stages and a gap of ten minutes between first and second. This by no means diminishes the challenge to the crews though, modern rallying much more of a sprint with all the associated pressures.

It has never been so important to be flat out from the word go (look at Cave vs Pryce in Yorkshire last year) and it has never been more important to supply an all-round package.

Websites, TV, social media, smartphones, promotional material – all expected of the modern rally crew. And the modern BRC rally crew delivers with aplomb, a plethora of new websites, YouTube specials Tweet-happy youths vie for the mantle of British Rally Champion.

So to the star attractions – the events themselves. Every part of Britain is covered, from the tricky Sunseeker stages to the ‘hang onto your hat’ flat out Pirelli, unique Jim Clark, classic Scottish and Yorkshire forests and not forgetting those Ulster lanes.

But the fastest gravel stages in the country, with the stunning scenery of Kielder, Europe’s largest man-made forest complex as a backdrop, are the Pirelli Richard Burns Foundation Rally. So what are you waiting for – go see for yourselves!!

The MSA British Manufacturers Rally Championship will be a one-horse race in 2013, with Citroën the only marque registered to score points, as last year’s runner up Ford has opted to concentrate on the new RallyTwo category. But Ford drivers should be in a great position to capitalise with the tried and tested Fiesta R2. Renault will have a handful of cars competing in the championship, but as the new Clio R3 will not be ready for the start of the 2013 season, the UK arm of the French marque has chosen to support the series as official vehicle suppliers.

The MSA British Junior Rally Championship is the platform for future rally talent and is open to drivers who were born on or after 1st January 1990, driving Classes 9 and 10 (Rally 1) designated cars only.  BRC newcomers Ben Mckay and Harry Threlfall will battle it out in identical Twingo Renaultsport R1s for the prestigious junior title, which is presented at the MSA headquarters in Pall Mall alongside the overall and manufacturers trophies.  The winner will rub shoulders with stars from the BTCC and many other high status series.

Event information
The crews will tackle nearly eighty miles of stages centred on Rally HQ and service area at Carlisle Racecourse and starting with autograph signing in Carlisle city centre on Saturday morning from around 10:00am. Saturday’s action features two loops of three stages in the nearby Kielder Forest.

Sunday’s two passes of two stages around Newcastleton include nearly ten miles in the Glen Dhu stage – a real challenge at top speed which may decide the event. By the time the crews return to Carlisle Racecourse finish at 1pm on Sunday, champagne will already be waiting for the top three.

The Richard Burns Foundation is a charity set up in memory of the former British and world rally champion who passed away aged just 34. Rally organisers have arranged a host of fundraising activities, including a celebrity chat show and raffle, tickets for which are available.

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

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