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The ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) travels west to Argyll & Bute for round five of the 2017 series, the Dunoon Presents Argyll Stages this weekend.

With a packed entry list full of quality, competitors will tackle the famous stages in the Argyll Forest Park for the first time this millennium with the battle at the front finely poised between the latest two champions: Euan Thorburn and Jock Armstrong.

Thorburn and Paul Beaton head the standings courtesy of four consecutive podium finishes and a first win of their season last month on at the Scottish Rally. The Ford Fiesta R5 pairing struggled to get up to their ultimate pace quickly at the start of the year, but have improved with every passing round and are a serious threat for a second Scottish title.

With two titles already to his name, Jock Armstrong is vying to make it three in 2017 with his Subaru Impreza. Co-driven by Paula Swinscoe, Armstrong took second behind Thorburn in Lockerbie, but will be hoping to use the blank canvas that Argyll presents to his advantage and claim a second win of the season.

That won’t be easy though, as Shaun Sinclair and Jamie Edwards are back on form in their awesome Subaru Impreza S14 WRC and keen to reach the top step of the rostrum after two top three finishes from four starts. Sinclair, from Oban, grabbed third last time out after a trouble free but “over-cautious” run so will be eager to go for it on an event he won the last time it was run.

“This is as close as I’m going to get to a home event so I’m looking forward to it,” said Sinclair. “The event returning to the SRC is great for Dunoon and for Fred [McLean] and the whole of the Mull Car Club who have organised it.”

Fourth was a tad disappointing for Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy who showed they had the pace to fight at the very front in their upgraded Lancer Evo IX. An early overshoot put paid to their podium challenge, but having visited the podium in Jedburgh and Elgin, Faulkner will be keen to return to the champagne spraying positions in Dunoon.

Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry are due a spot of luck this year, with the Evo IX’s day out on round four being blighted by punctures. The same can be said of Greg McKnight and Laura Marshall who again showed great pace on the Scottish but suffered a puncture which wrecked their Evo’s wiring loom. Scott McCombie and Mark Fisher are on a high after a strong showing on the Scottish while Steven Clark and Paul Brown return to action for the first time since the Border Counties.

The battle for the SRC Challengers is poised to be as relentless as ever, with all three 2017 category winners Iain Wilson (Subaru Impreza), John Wink (Mitsubishi Evo IX) and Michael Binnie (Mitsubishi Evo V) gunning for success on round five. The consistent Simon Hay and Calum Jaffray also can’t be discounted in their Mitsubishi Evo VI.

Dougal Brown and Lewis Rochford have been the class act of the Scottish 2WD field this year in their Ford Escort Mk2, and will be looking to build on that strong run of form in Argyll. Mike Stuart and Sinclair Young are sure to be in the reckoning, while a whole host of front wheel drive runners will also be in contention, not least Angus Lawrie and Keith Riddick whose squabble for class three was decided by a missing rear wheel on Lawrie’s Corsa last month.

John McIlwraith blitzed the opposition on his home event in the http://www.usedcarparts.co.uk Subaru Cup, but will face the usual challenge from Colin Baxter and Matthew Thomson. Andy Struthers and Max Redpath are expected to fight for Juniors’ honours.

Chris Woodcock, Clerk of the Course for the Argyll Stages, is proud of what his organising team have been able to achieve.

“Mull Car Club are proud to be working with Dunoon Presents to bring a rally back to the Argyll Forests after over a decades break,” he enthused. “It’s pleasing to see that all of the top five crews in the Scottish Rally Championship including Euan Thorburn and Jock Armstrong have entered but also great to see some names from the past like Ken Wood competing on the return to some classic Scottish stages.”

Dave Weston, Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Rally Championship, added: “The championship have worked hard with Chris and his team to make this event happen. It is great for the championship to be back in Argyll and for me personally when I was competing, Argyll was the one event we all looked forward to every year. With challenging and fast stages, amazing views and a great social atmosphere, it’s just a lovely place to visit annually in the rally cavalcade.”

With three rounds to go including the Argyll Stages, the battle for the SRC John Horton Star Driver Award is intensifying, with drivers using the stages around Dunoon to impress the judges and join Thomas Gray, Greg McKnight, Michael Binnie and Mike Stuart in an end of year shoot-out.

“The SRC John Horton Star Driver Award is hotting up with three rounds left, with the wild card entry starting to be discussed,” Weston explained. “Each round winner has earnt the right to be there by shining through on each event. We are anticipating a good battle this weekend in Dunoon and a fiercely contested shoot-out in October.”

The event is based at Dunoon Stadium, with the ceremonial finish, the service area and official documentation all being staged here. The first car leaves Argyll Street in Dunoon early on Saturday 24th June to take in over 40 miles of beautiful forest roads. There is a genuine air of excitement around the rally which sees the current crop of stars head to forests that previous greats have taken on and mastered.

The 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship is partnered by Pirelli Motorsport, Coltel Communications and Reis Motorsport Insurance.

The championship consists of seven forest events across the whole of Scotland, taking in over 300 competitive stage miles.

Keep up to date with all the latest news via the website, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #SRC17

Images: Lindsay Photo Sport

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