Rounds five and six of the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge (BRCC) take place on the demanding asphalt roads of Antrim this weekend as the battle for the 2012 crown continues.
The Todds Leap Ulster Challenge Rally provides the competitors with the task of tackling a double header event for the only time this season. This means that both days of competition will be classed as individual full point scoring events, a format that is popular with the teams.
The season however, is shaping up to be one of the most closely fought campaigns in the championship’s history, with the top nine drivers all still capable of winning the title.
Current championship leader James Watts and his co-driver Steve Hartley have shown that consistency does provide benefits, and in this case it’s a ten point lead at the top of the overall standings. The VW Polo may not have the power of some of the other competitors but in the hands of the Stanstead Abbotts based Watts, it has provided plenty of class wins this year, meaning bonus points towards the overall standings.
Second in the standings with a very healthy 84 points is round two victor Richard Sykes in his R2 specification Citroën C2 Max. Sykes and navigator Simon Taylor are an experienced crew on tarmac having put that to good use this year already with a podium finish last time out in Scotland. But the former BRC entrants will be looking to go one better this time out and grab two more wins to add to their victory in Wales.
The Citroën of Sykes however might have been keenly challenged on the Northern Irish roads by another C2R2 Max driven by Lancashire youngster and round one winner James Ford. Ford switched from his MK 2 Escort after the opening round in order to adapt to the front wheel drive format that is becoming ever so popular on the UK rally scene.
But since the BRCC is not only a great series in its own right, but a feeder for the MSA British Rally Championship, it can sometimes be a victim of its own success. So Ford will contest the international event this time, having decided that the time was right to make the step up.
Ford, who is just ten points off Sykes in the Championship, now has a fourteen point advantage over fourth placed Simon Moore. But the man from the north east of England has won the last two rallies outright and is without doubt the driver in form.
After a disastrous start to his campaign, back to back retirements, Moore and co-driver Emma Morrison have recaptured the form that took them to within a point of last years title. The yellow Renault Clio could well be the one to watch as Moore will look to put right last year’s event, a heavy landing saw a wheel nut evaporate alongside his title aspirations.
In joint fourth place alongside Moore is Fiesta ST driver Tony Simpson, who like Watts, has utilised good scoring finishes throughout the year to best effect. Admittedly looking to score overall points in the Fiesta SportChallenge, Simpson’s consistency has earned him an excellent top five overall so far and 60 Championship points.
Russ Thompson lies in sixth place just ten points off Moore and Simpson in his Renault Clio. Thompson’s year also started badly after breaking down while leading round one, then suffering a big roll in Wales on round two. But with two great performances leading into Ulster, Thompson and team mate Andy Murphy will hope to build on their third place in Scotland.
In a reversal of fortune to Thompson, Gareth White and co-driver Mike Dickson started 2012 with a bang, holding a podium finish on Rallye Sunseeker. However, luck has deserted the Scottish pairing over the last two events, non-scoring on both the Pirelli and the Jim Clark. But the duo will be hoping for some of the famous Irish luck to propel them and their Citroën C2R2 Max up the leader board from seventh.
With such close fought competition the BRCC is once again proving to be a worthy support series to the MSA British Rally Championship. This championship format has come to exemplify realistically affordable but ultra competitive rallying within the UK. The NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge is open to cars limited to two litres and two-wheel drive only, but with no rules governing homologation, the series has proven to be a winning formula for those drivers holding National B licences.
The Todds Leap Challenge Rallies are based in the town of Antrim and use closed public roads in Counties Antrim and Londonderry, day one starting on Friday 17th August at 15:00 then again on Saturday at 11:25. Rally HQ, the service area, start and finish of the event are all centred on Junction One International Outlet Shopping Centre on the edge of Antrim town.
For more information on the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge visit www.rallybrcchallenge.co.uk
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