The MSA British Rally Championship blasts back to life next weekend as no fewer than 54 registered crews from 11 nations tackle the opening round of the series, the Newtown-based Mid Wales Stages.
After a year’s break over concerns about the series, the championship’s top category will feature four-wheel-drive competition for the first time since 2011, as the exciting new R5 cars do battle with S2000 machinery at the front of the field.
Support classes include the DMACK Junior BRC that will showcase the talents of the best young drivers in 2-wheel drive R2 specification cars while the National Rally Cup offers the challenge of longer rallies for non-homologated vehicles.
The Mid Wales Stages hosts the opening round of the new championship and its classic stages will be a genuine early-season test for the crews.
The first two stages take place on Saturday evening, as crews tackle 26 challenging miles in the dark.
On Sunday, the crews embark on a day of competition over classic Wales Rally GB stages including Myherin, Sweet Lamb, Hafren and Pike’s Peak with the winner being crowned in the centre of Newtown in the early afternoon.
Further underlining the renaissance of the new championship, ten manufacturers will be represented on the first round with models from Citroen, Ford, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Proton, Renault, Skoda, Subaru, Toyota and Vauxhall all lining up to contest the six gravel stages.
It is also the second round of the 2016 Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship.
IMS, organisers of Wales Rally GB, have once again made the Championship part of their Road to Wales initiative one lucky contender is also set to receive a free entry on the Wales Rally GB National Rally.
No fewer than 10 crews will be making their first appearance of the year in the Championship this weekend while Brian Bell and Jamie Edwards have confirmed that they will join the series from the next round, Rally North Wales.
It was Rhuddlan driver Luke Francis along with co-driver John H Roberts who took maximum points on the season opener claiming outright victory by just one second. Even at this early stage in the season, this weekend is the second of eight Championship rounds, their rivals will be keen to ensure that they don’t get too far ahead.
After being forced to retire on the penultimate stage of the Cambrian Rally with mechanical problems on their Subaru Impreza, last year’s Championship runners-up Dylan Davies from Llanon partnered by Caernarfon’s Llion Williams will be keen to give their 2016 campaign a kick-start. So, too, will West Country couple Martin and Dawn England in their Mitsubishi Evo X.
Meanwhile North Wales duo Richard Ceen and Aled Edwards will be getting their championship campaign underway in their Ford Focus World Rally Car. Among the ranks of Subaru Impreza crews will be Tim Green and Rob Smith as well as South Wales pairing Simon Thomas and Mark Williams. Surrey’s Wug Utting is paired up with North Wales co-driver Dan Nieroda in his Impreza while Harry Gardner and Elliott Graham will be putting in an appearance in their similar car.
Paul Davy and Roger Allen run their Subaru in less modified Group N trim and the Worcester team hold the lead in that class following the season opener.
In the two wheel drive category, Ford Escort pairing Nev Jones and Chris Davies can expect strong opposition from the similar car of rallying’s elder statesman Terry Brown, partnered as usual by Den Golding, and that of Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmons. Ludlow pairing Tim Cains and Richard May, meanwhile opt for front wheel drive with their Peugeot 309.
Championship contenders will cross the start ramp at the Hafren in Newtown from 08:00 on Sunday and are scheduled to start returning there shortly before 15:00.
WRC star Elfyn Evans and co-driver Craig Parry will lead the teams away on Saturday evening in their Ford Fiesta R5, ahead of a host of drivers aiming to prove they have what it takes to claim the title. Previous BRC champions David Bogie (Skoda Fabia R5) and Keith Cronin (Citroen DS3 R5) will be keen to repeat their previous title successes, while Euan Thorburn (Peugeot 208 T16 R5) and Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia S2000) will be looking for a good start to their campaigns.