Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jack Benyon

The Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship has been spoilt by asphalt ral­lies this year. Has there been as much hype in re­cent years around in­di­vid­ual ral­lies as much as there was for the Cir­cuit of Ire­land and the Ul­ster?

The Cir­cuit had the en­try; WRC driver Craig Breen and a band of Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship co­horts led by Ka­je­tan Ka­je­tanow­icz, not to men­tion the Ir­ish Tar­mac contingent led by Alis­tair Fisher and Keith Cronin.

The Ul­ster had the tough un­char­ac­ter­is­tic stages – new for 2016 – nar­row, ul­tra-tight and twisty, with the added con­tro­versy of be­ing de­clared a wet rally thus giv­ing the driv­ers per­mis­sion to use cut and full wet tyres. Now we’re at the Manx. Cir­cuit win­ner Breen, now boosted by a Rally Fin­land podium and a con­firmed out­ing in Cor­sica in the WRC with the pseudo-works PH Sport Citroen squad, joins newly crowned Bri­tish cham­pion and WRC2 points leader El­fyn Evans and his one off team-mate, Manx leg­end Mark Hig­gins, in a three-way bat­tle for the over­all win. Or so it seems.

Hig­gins hasn’t driven an R5 car in anger on the Manx be­fore. In­deed, he hasn’t com­peted on the Manx since 2009. Of course, he won, but can he repli­cate his form in the TT course record-break­ing Subaru he drove ear­lier this year?

“Those guys know the cars in­side out,” said Hig­gins. “We have to be re­al­is­tic but if I can be right in the bat­tle with those guys I’d be over the moon.”

It’ll be a tough ask for the Manx­man but, to be on the pace, is all the five-time win­ner is ask­ing. His team-mate, Evans, has only driven on the Manx once be­fore. But if we’ve learned any­thing this year it’s that the young Welsh­man writes good pacenotes and drives to them as well as any­one. Ir­rel­e­vant of sur­face, car or tyre choice, his four wins in the BRC prove as much and if he’s any­thing like his fa­ther, he’ll love and per­form on the Manx in equal mea­sure.

The real bat­tle is likely to be be­tween Breen and Evans. Fans were robbed of a sim­i­lar bat­tle on the Cir­cuit of Ire­land in April when Evans re­tired on stage three when the al­ter­na­tor belt came off in his Ford Fi­esta. Strong times when he re­turned un­der Rally2 the next day proved there would have been a bat­tle to be had, and the driver and team have made a step for­ward with set-up and tyres on asphalt re­spec­tively.

Ti­tanic doesn’t come close to this bout. “The gloves are off,” says Breen, with a chuckle. He’s driven by adding his name to Frank Meagher’s on any rally win­ners’ list, and this is an­other one his late, great hero was vic­to­ri­ous in.

So, who can chal­lenge them for vic­tory? It would be no sur­prise if Hig­gins took the fi­nal spot on the podium. Not hav­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of the R5 will be the only fac­tor likely cost him a shot at the win.

Next on the list is the fourth seed, Fredrik Ah­lin. He has im­pressed af­ter mak­ing his first start on asphalt in a four-wheel-drive car on the Cir­cuit, and a few mis­de­meanours from his co-driver cur­tailed his ef­forts on the Ul­ster. He’s un­likely to chal­lenge for the win but could be a podium threat.

Tom Cave will no doubt go well de­spite strug­gling at times on Tar this year. The Welsh­man has shown flashes of cham­pi­onship-win­ning pace, but it hasn’t quite come to­gether for him. He’ll be fight­ing Ah­lin and Breen’s DGM Citroen team-mate Jonny Greer for sec­ond place in the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship: an­other fight which will make the Manx le­gendary.

Like a cer­tain cur­rent TV pro­gramme, the Manx has all the in­gre­di­ents to make a great cake. Can the bak­ers de­liver un­der the heat?

Hig­gins won on last Manx out­ing in 2009 El­fyn Evans boasts BRC ti­tle head­ing into three-way Manx bat­tle Breen (r) and Scott Martin re­sume Cir­cuit of Ire­land part­ner­ship

Ah­lin is a podium hope for CA1

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