FULL PREVIEW TO THE BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP FINALE
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