WITH the margin for error in both the Dunlop National Rally Championship and the Dulux Trade British series diminishing as both championships near conclusion, this weekend’s Dominic Quinn Body Repairs/Sligo Park Hotel Rally and Rally Isle of Man are of major significance to their respective title protagonists.
Both have a common strand insofar as consistency has played a major role for its current leaders. Niall Maguire, a former triple national champion has an eight-point lead as he tries to secure an unprecedented fourth national crown.
However, with four events remaining and dropped scores entering the equation, his position is more tenuous. Indeed, were dropped scores taken into consideration at this juncture, Maguire would find himself four points behind Mel Evans and Derek McGarrity, who would have equal points.
Interestingly, Maguire has one victory to his credit while McGarrity has taken maximum points on two occasions and Evans has three outright wins as he bids to become the first overseas driver to win the Vard Memorial Trophy. Monaghan ace, Maguire has picked up his pace on recent rounds but maximum points in Sligo would be a major boost to his title aspirations. McGarrity and Evans have the capacity to gain the early advantage.
The outsider of the quartet, Kevin Barrett has to rely on mistakes by the other trio in order to figure in the title equation. Probably of more importance is his capability of taking maximum points or perhaps even splitting Maguire, Evans and McGarrity.
All four are contesting the nine-stage Sligo event where the presence of former Group N champion, Garry Jennings in a Subaru WRC adds spice to this seventh round of the campaign.
Support from the Sligo region is the principal reason that Jennings is hiring a McKinstry prepared Subaru S9, the other is the fact that the Fermanagh ace has sold his Mitsubishi Evo9 to Euan Thorburn.
On the 2006 Ulster Rally, Jennings drove a Subaru WRC to third overall, on Sunday, he will try to match or even surpass the likes of Evans and McGarrity, however, family commitments are placing a doubt over his presence.
Meanwhile, Sligo’s, Paul Kiely makes his customary switch to the driving role as he campaigns a Group N Mitsubishi. Sean Flanagan (Subaru) will concentrate on strengthening his lead in the quest for the Patterson’s RallyNews Group N award.
Elsewhere, the entry also includes the Mk. 2 Escorts of defending rally.ie champion, Mike Quinn and Declan Boyle and John Cairns (Subaru). The first stage begins at 10.19am with servicing after S.S. 3 & 6 at Ballinafad.
In the BRC, the first of the 13 stages of the opening leg of Rally Isle of Man begins at 10.33 this morning with reigning British Rally champion, Keith Cronin in his TEG Sport Pirelli liveried Subaru aiming to close the gap to his title rivals. The Ballylickey ace is first on the road given the withdrawal of top seed, Mark Higgins.
Although the N15 is proving a handful, particularly in terms of rear suspension, Cronin needs reliability but must also stay out of trouble in order to put his bid firmly back on track. Although Jonny Greer heads the championship standings – eleven points ahead of Cronin, it is Gwyndaf Evans that poses the biggest obstacle for Cronin. The Welshman has won the last two rounds to move into second – seven points behind Greer and will be partnered by Gareth Roberts as regular co-driver, Chris Patterson has joined Peter Solberg in the WRC. Roberts availability follows from the withdrawal of Craig Breen as his Fiesta S2000 isn’t fully repaired after crashing in Donegal. Alastair Fisher (Mitsubishi) will be expected to be amongst the contenders as Robert Barrable (Citroen C2) seeks another strong result and points in the Citroen C2R2 Cup.
Rally Bulgaria, round seven of the WRC also starts today with an added interest in the performance of Petter Solberg (Citroen C4), who has Antrim’s, Chris Patterson calling the notes. Runaway leader and reigning champion, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) has a 38 point lead over team mate, Sebastien Ogier, who could switch to the Ford camp in 2011.
The Swansea Bay Rally has been cancelled due to an outbreak of the tree disease caused by Phytophthora Ramorum. As it can be spread by tree needles and soil clinging to people or vehicles, travel between infected woodlands and uninfected areas several times during the course of the rally posed a high risk of spreading the disease. Other events in the UK could also be in jeopardy.
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