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The race to be crowned the 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) Challengers victor has once again proved to be a closely fought affair, with four drivers in the hunt for the title with just two rounds remaining.

The SRC Challengers category made its debut in 2016, catering for any driver who has finished in the top 10 of an MSA event in the last 10 years no more than once. Scott McCombie and Mark Fisher took the spoils last year, but such is the pace in 2017, the front-runners are often found to be beating the current title holders.

Inverness hosted the opening round of the season, with the Subaru Impreza of Iain Wilson coming out the box in impressive fashion to take a strong victory ahead of Simon Hay and Ross MacDonald’s Mitsubishis.

Commanding his authority on the leaderboard, it was the Dalbeattie driver who would once again claim maximum points on the Border Counties Rally in Jedburgh for round two. Home hero Michael Binnie and co-driver Claire Mole took a popular second ahead of John Wink and John Forrest.

The tables started to turn as the SRC headed back north for the Speyside Stages in April. Wilson’s Impreza never made the podium and a sensational battle developed between local man Wink and Michael Binnie over the closing stages. Binnie held the initiative going into the final test but it was Wink who emerged in the clear to take a well-deserved victory. Hay and co-driver Calum Jaffray claimed their second podium of the year in third.

Wilson suffered more misfortune on the Scottish Rally, his Impreza failing to make the finish for the first time this year and this time, it was Binnie’s turn to take the win in dreadful conditions. Hay would take runner up and the fifth SRC championship contender home whilst Mike Stuart masterfully brought his two wheel drive Escort into third place.

The Argyll Rally witnessed an epic duel for honours in incredibly challenging conditions. Simon Hay had proved his consistency throughout the season but showed he has searing speed to go with it, taking an incredible seventh overall to win his first Challengers round. Wink had to settle for second with Binnie recovering to third after a first stage puncture.

With current dropped scores taken into consideration, Simon Hay and Michael Binnie are tied at the top of the table with Iain Wilson just one point behind in third and John Wink seven points shy of the summit, completing the top four.

“At the start of the season our aim was to get into the top 20, which is something we have achieved right from the start,” said Hay. “To say back then that we’d be fighting in the top 10 would have been a joke between us and the service crew, but now we have finished there twice!

“Preparation is important for the final two rounds. We ideally need another win or even two to win the Challengers, which would be nice given we can’t compete in the category again next year. [Michael] Binnie is really quick and now he’s in a newer, upgraded Evo we’ll have to push even harder.

“It’s been a great year so far. We head both the Challengers and our class [ten] but the margins are so small so it’s definitely all to play for.”

“It’s very close this year,” agreed Wilson. “We gained a lot of experience last year; from the Grampian onwards we started to pick up our pace. We are heading into the final two rallies of this season looking to try and win them.

“Whoever is most up for it on the day seems to be coming out on top, it’s that close the right attitude can make a difference. Simon [Hay] has been a wee bit of a surprise to me this year, he’s driving very well but we knew Michael Binnie would be a contender and John [Wink] always goes well too. When we got the first two wins we thought ‘if we keep our head in the game here we’ll be alright’, but things change quickly.

“The Challengers and the class [ten] seem to go hand in hand, if you win the Challengers you win the class, but the Challengers is the one I really want.”

John Wink is right in the mix with one class victory to his name in 2017, but the Evo IX he used to overhaul Michael Binnie in the final stage of the Speyside now belongs to his rival. The Huntly pilot has a new car for the Grampian Forest Rally, but can’t reveal what it is due to his sponsors’ requirements.

“The Challengers has been really competitive this year, with probably some of the most exciting battles in the SRC,” he enthused. “We are looking forward to the next two rounds where we’ll just be pushing as hard as we can. It isn’t the ideal time to bring in the new car, in the middle of a championship battle, but we’ll be giving it our best in a maximum attack!”

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.

The next round of the SRC is the Grampian Forest Rally on Saturday 13th August.

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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