The highly anticipated 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship kicks off with its traditional season opener this weekend, as almost 100 crews head to Inverness for the Arnold Clark Jurys Inn Snowman Rally.
The curtain raiser for the 2017 season is dubbed as one of the trickiest tests of the year thanks to the notorious northern wintry weather. Its unpredictable nature makes the 43 miles of gravel forest stages on offer a lottery for competitors with conditions on the stages impossible to predict.
In a series which has been growing in popularity year on year, Championship organisers are expecting another bumper season which consists of seven all-gravel rallies across Scotland. Whilst they cannot guarantee a repeat of last year’s nail-biting finish to the championship which saw Jock Armstrong take his second title on the final stage of the season, it is sure to be an entertaining year for Scottish motor sport none the less.
Teetering on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park the series opener has always commanded an infinite level of skill to conquer and it was Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer who did so last year at the wheel of their Mitsubishi Evo IX. They start the 2017 rally in the cockpit of a Ford Fiesta R5 and will undoubtedly be looking to repeat their popular home win from 2016.
Bringing the battle to the Inverness duo are no less than three Scottish Rally Champions in David Bogie, Euan Thorburn and Jock Armstrong.
Five-time Scottish Champion Bogie is making the trip up north in preparation for his British Rally Championship campaign, and will be looking to establish a good result against previous SRC rivals in his Skoda Fabia R5.
However, Duns driver Euan Thorburn will be looking to topple his Dumfries rival after switching from the Peugeot 208 T16 to a Fiesta R5 this year. Both Thorburn and Bogie have enjoyed epic contests in the Scottish stages down the years, and their inclusion on the entry list creates a strong buzz ahead of the first round of the 2017 Scottish Rally Championship season.
Defending Scottish Rally Champion Jock Armstrong was often the class of the field last year along with title rival Garry Pearson. Pearson is absent from the Snowman, but that won’t make Armstrong’s job any easier with a whole host of hungry drivers in quick machinery looking to topple Jock off his perch.
Last year, the Castle Douglas ace struggled in the treacherous conditions with a lonely finish outside the top 10, so will be looking for a strong start to his season this time around.
Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy are once again back in the Scottish Rally Championship with their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. However, Faulkner’s Mitsubishi has been upgraded over the winter with the pair hoping to take their first SRC win since 2015.
Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts head to Inverness on the back of their strongest ever result in rallying after taking the Wales Rally GB National in 2016, an event which has been won by an SRC crew since 2013.
Mark McCulloch (Evo IX), Shaun Sinclair (Impreza S14 WRC), Quintin Milne (Mitsubishi Evo Proto), Rory Young (Fiesta R5) and Scott McCombie (Evo IX) are all expected to mount serious challenges in what looks to be one of the most unpredictable SRC seasons in years.
As well as the battle at the front of the field, there are a number of championships and crews to keep an eye on.
Marty Gallagher and Dean O’Sullivan are strong entrants in the SRC Junior contest with their Peugeot 208 R2. The youngster is coming across the North Channel from Letterkenny in Ireland in a bid to try his hand against the best young talents in the Scottish Rally Championship, and will be looking to take advantage of the terrific prize on offer.
The SRC Challengers Championship provided one of the most entertaining battles of recent memory in 2016, and is expected to deliver just as much excitement in 2017. Scott MacBeth is a favourite for success in his Evo VII, but he will face stiff competition from the likes of Ross MacDonald (Evo VIII) and John McIlwraith (Impreza).
Matthew Thomson is back again to defend his http://www.usedcarparts.co.uk Subaru Cup title, but will be challenged all the way by John McIlwraith and Donald Brooker, who both move to Subaru power after driving two wheel drive cars last year.
The 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship takes in seven fast and furious forest rallies all across Scotland, kicking off with the Arnold Clark Jurys Inn Snowman Rally on Saturday 18 February. If previous years are anything to go by, an exciting contest is all but guaranteed.
You can keep up to date with the SRC by visiting the website http://www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk or by following the championship’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.
For more information on round 1 of the championship, head to http://www.snowmanrally.co.uk.