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With the dust literally and figuratively settled on the MSA British Rally Championship’s first round, it is time to leave the forest gravel for the ‘tar’ of the Jim Clark Rally. Big brakes and Pirelli slicks fitted, suspension stiffened – all that’s needed are the closed roads of the Scottish Borders – bring on the black stuff!

The Jim Clark Rally is unique on the British mainland as the only closed public-road rally and as such holds challenges peculiar to driving flat out on roads that are usually used by locals to go about their daily business.

The crews’ challenge starts with the reconnaissance of the stages; using diagrams and maps, they must traverse the route within the speed limit and abide by normal road-traffic laws. Sounds easy, but trying to sight a series of fast flowing bends while staying on the correct side of the road is tricky, particularly when during the rally, every inch of the road is used and the speed increases from 30 to 130 miles per hour.

Since everyone from last year’s runner up and this year’s number one seed, Tom Cave, to BRC newcomer and last of the main event runners, Ben Mckay gets to ‘recce’, the playing field is completely level.

So it is for the front-runners, in what is shaping up to be a vintage BRC season. Sole Morris Lubricants DMS team representatives Cave and fellow Welshman Ieuan Thomas are a new pairing for 2013, but they have already proved their mettle with a podium spot on the Pirelli RBF Rally. And with a second place in a Citroën DS3 on last year’s Jim Clark Rally, they must surely be in a position to finish atop the podium at the end of this week.

But round one runners-up, DGM Sport duo Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble, will have other ideas. Although the 24 year-old has missed the last two Jim Clark Rallies, he was second in 2010 and has been keeping match-fit in the WRC-3 at the wheel of a  – you guessed it – Citroën DS3 R3T.

Someone who probably wishes, more than most, that the opening round in Wales hadn’t been called-off is championship leader Jukka Korhonen. He and Mark Salminen would dearly have liked to post a couple of wins ahead of the move to asphalt, but one will have to suffice as they hold their breath on the unfamiliar surface.

BRC stalwart of seven years, Jonny Greer is back together with Jonny Hart and as long ago as 2008 they proved capable of mixing it with the best on the Jim Clark lanes. More than capable of finishing on the podium, a BRC win has always eluded the Belfast man. But in a year when the competition is so hot, he showed that the podium is never far away with fourth in Kielder.

More than Scottish pride is at stake from the next driver, as Mull’s John MacCrone joins with former BRC champion co-driver Phil Pugh again in a bid for the BRC Teams Championship. Driving their Culina Palletforce Racing DS3, a puncture put paid for an outright charge in Kielder, but MacCrone’s experience of the Isle of Mull’s fiercely tricky stages could mean an upset at the front in the Borders. Their team-mates Peter Taylor and Andrew Roughead ended their 2012 Jim Clark Rally with damaged suspension and were frustrated on the Pirelli. But they were third quickest two wheel drive in 2011, so should go well on the ‘tar’.

The Pirelli Star Driver scheme has already provided one World Rally Champion, albeit the WRC Academy. But this year’s Star Driver Mark Donnelly’s determination coupled with an easy-going demeanour could see him on his way too. A heavy landing caught the DGM Sport crew out last time, but despite the Jim Clark not being kind in the past, a pre-event test rally should see him and Dai Roberts go well.

Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss have also been busy before the Jim Clark Rally, going head-to-head with Tom Cave on a local airfield rally just last weekend. But for a blown turbo pipe on the start line of the very first stage, the battle could easily have been as close as last year in Yorkshire.

Rounding off the top  ten are Northern Irish drivers Desi Henry and Brendan Cumiskey, partnered here by Phil Clarke & Conor Foley respectively. Henry has more experience of front wheel drive Citroëns, but both retired last time out so start the event on equal pegging.

MSA British Junior Rally Championship
So to the battle of the juniors; Local driver Garry Pearson has graduated to the BRC’s RallyTwo championship, leaving the door open for a fresh batch of under 23 year olds to fight it out for the MSA title.

Like Pearson’s 2012 assault, both Harry Threlfall and Ben Mckay drive the little Twingo Renaultsport R1 and both have more senior co-drivers to guide them to glory. Andy Bull’s ministrations have already helped Threlfall to the top of the tables, although Ben’s dad Jason could not foresee the broken engine mount that ended their Pirelli Rally.

The intricacies of rallying on closed public roads will be new to both drivers, but whatever the outcome, the chances of big grins and tall tales are high after this unique rally.

MSA British Manufacturers Rally Championship
As the only manufacturer actually claiming points towards the title, Citroën UK is pretty certain to retain the accolade in 2013. But given the number of DS3 R3T rally cars at the front of the field, it was going to be a hard task for Renault or Ford to grab points. Nevertheless, the additional exposure given to the championship by Citroën’s involvement is welcome, along with Renault UK which is the official vehicle supplier to the series.

Of course there is plenty more to entertain in the Borders lanes, the BRC RallyTwo Championship will be a great one to watch, with front wheel drive pocket-rockets aplenty . Further information on the runners and riders follows soon.

Jim Clark Rally details
The Jim Clark Rally returns to its now traditional Duns ceremonial start from 6.30pm on Friday 31 May followed by a 1.2 mile stage through the town centre. The crews then take on Abbey St Bathans, a sixteen mile stage than often sets the tone for the remainder of the rally followed by the new Tweedside stage. This loop is repeated on Friday, competitors restarting from Kelso at 8am on Saturday 1 June after an unlimited overnight service halt.

Saturday’s first two stages take place early, the cars returning to Kelso Racecourse for a quick service, before tackling a loop of three including the return of the 1.96-mile Langton stage with its famous watersplash. All five stages are repeated before the finish celebrations back in Kelso from 5.30pm.

BRC LIVE radio
The British Rally Championship’s radio feed, BRC LIVE, will broadcast during the Jim Clark Rally: Friday 31st May 18:00 to 23:00. Saturday 1st June 08:00 to 18:00.

Keep in touch with all the action via TV, internet or mobile app

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

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