The action-packed British Rally Championship heads to Carlisle, Cumbria for the Pirelli International Rally on saturday and the third round of the series.
This weekend the intrepid British championship crews face a one-day shoot out over 80 fast and furious gravel miles in the infamous Kielder Forest complex.
The Ceremonial Start will take place at the Pirelli factory on the outskirts of Carlisle ahead of eight timed stages on the fast and flowing gravel roads before a family-friendly finish in the centre of Brampton where fans will be able to get up close to the cars and stars.
Leading the charge in Britain’s premier rallying series is reigining champion and 2018 Pirelli International winner Matt Edwards (right) and co-driver Patrick Walsh.
Edwards clinched his breakthrough BRC win on the gravel of Kielder exactly one year ago and will be keen to repeat the feat this weekend.
The Welsh pairing are spearheading the assault for Cockermouth-based team M-Sport once again this season and the Pirelli-backed Ford Fiesta R5 duo will be eager to extend their championship lead and back up their round one Cambrian Rally win.
“Winning the event last year was a big thing for me. It was a great battle with many top drivers, but the most important thing was that it was an uneventful weekend as we had no dramas compared to other crews.
“It was an important rally as it was my first International and first BRC win and I look forward to returning with the number one on the door – something I have yet to do on a BRC round, so that will be another nice tick in the box.
“The event is very unique. You need a lot of bravery over the crests and on the high-speed straights to really make up time. You need to also have an element of caution as Kielder can bite and catch you out. Your pacenotes are vital as that can give you more confidence over a blind crest or if it’s wrong it could put you in one of the famous ditches. Kielder is not known for allowing mistakes so it’s very much a tightrope between a stage win or retirement.”
Tom Cave (right) chalked up his first four-wheel-drive BRC win last time out on the West Cork Rally after an intense final stage-shoot out with Edwards. Cave took the first win for Hyundai in the BRC since David Higgins in 2004 and the i20 R5 pilot will be hoping to continue the momentum onto the gravel in Kielder.
He will be joined in the Michelin-shod Hyundai by Dale Bowen once again and a win in England will turbo-charge their title aspirations.
2011 British Champion David Bogie will be looking to make strides this weekend as he searches his first win of the season. Bogie from Dumfries and Irish co-driver John Rowan lead the charge for Carlisle-based preparation firm CA1 Sport on the rally and the pair will be keen to put the 2018 early exit behind them and stand on the top step of the podium.
Second in the points standings coming into the Cumbrian round is Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell in their Skoda Fabia R5. The Irish pair have been chipping away this season and have a third and a fourth in the bank already – but the pair would so desperately love to take their first BRC win on the fast Kielder forestry tracks and make it three different winners in as many events.
Defending Irish Tarmac Champion Josh Moffett has returned to the BRC this year, and he navigator Keith Moriarty recorded their first podium of the year in West Cork last time out. The Ford Fiesta R5 team have never been to the Pirelli together before, but could spring a surprise if others faulter and visit one of the infamous Kielder ditches.
Fellow Irishman Desi Henry is a previous Irish Forest Champion and with the experienced Liam Moynihan sat alongside – the Skoda Fabia R5 pairing will be hoping a rostrum will propel them up the championship order.
Rhys Yates is making a welcome return to Britain’s top flight on the Pirelli Rally. Yates will be dovetailing selected British events this season with his FIA World Rally Championship outings. The Englishman has fine form on the Cumbrian gravel as the young-gun fought for victory 12 months ago. Fast forward to 2019 and this time round he will be looking to go one better than his second-place last season.