The opening round of the Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship has attracted a sensational 83-car field to the Bulldog Historic Rally (Saturday 28 March).
Three former British champions and four former British historic champions are all in the entry for the event that tackles 50 miles of prime Welsh forest roads in just four special stages. It promises to be a fabulous start to the 2009 season.
Category one is for the oldest cars, from the pre ’68 era, and they run first on the road with a short gap before the rest of the historic field. Top of the tree is the Porsche 911 of former champions Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride, but they can expect a stern challenge from the similar car of team mates Stuart Rolt/Richard Pomfret, making a rare but welcome BHRC appearance.
Lining up against the Porsches will be the former championship winning Sunbeam Tiger, now in the hands of Jonathan Gale, who is co-driven by his father Graham for his debut rally in the ex-Patrick Watts car. Meanwhile, Russell Brookes, a winner of this rally 20 years ago, is having a one-off run in the Porsche 911 of Steve Perez, with Neil Wilson alongside.
Local driver Gwilym Roberts heads the B4 field in his Lotus Cortina, partnered by Gwawr Hughes, but the amazing Volvo Amazon of Graham Waite/Gill Cotton will be hustled through the forests in fine style. James Stait heads the B2 pack in his MG Midget, while local crew Gary and Jane Edgington from Corwen top the B1 field in their wonderful Singer Chamois.
In category two, for the post-historic cars, it is Ford Escort Mk1s against Porsche 911s at the head of the category. In the Escort brigade, BHRC debutant David Higgins, partnered by Ieuan Thomas, should really fly in one of Mark Solloway’s Mk1 Escorts. David Stokes and Guy Weaver have already scored two great results this season in warm-up events, so they will be fully match fit. But with rivalry from Rupert Lomax/David Alcock and Rikki Proffitt/Phill Harrison, it will be very hard fought. Also in C5 is the beautiful Lancia Stratos of Steve Perez/Paul Spooner.
Jeremy Easson has switched to his stunning Ford Capri RS3100 and will be a real crowd favourite, but goes up against at least five Porsche 911s in class C4. Tim Mason/Graham Wild and Andrew Haddon/Mark Crisp are established pacesetters, while the newly completed 911 of Peter Smith/Russ Langthorne could also be a major contender.
Class C3 is dominated by the 2-litre Pinto-powered Escort Mk1s and there are as many as seven potential class winners in what will surely be one of the most competitive classes of the rally. Pick a winner from Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes, Russell Morgan/Martin Kenyon, James Young/David Young, Neal James/Kevin Jones, Tim Jones/Don James, Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson and Robin Shuttleworth/Mark Midgley. It will be a fierce contest!
In class C2 for the 1600cc cars, championship newcomers Richard Williams/Richard Ekin take on the similar Mk1 Escort of Tony Ginns/Mark Ellis.
Leading the category three competitors away will be Gwyndaf Evans, partnered by Gareth Roberts in a fresh Mk2 Escort from the new company set up by World champion co-driver Phil Mills. No one knows these stages better than Gwyndaf, so expect him to fly on what is, at least initially, a one-off outing.
The line-up of established BHRC contenders is hugely impressive and it is the Ford Escort Mk2 crews of Darren Moon/Chris Parsons, Richard Hill/Patrick Cooper, Nick Elliott/Dave Price, Gareth Lloyd/Ryland James, Will Onions/Tim Hobbs and Simon Tysoe/Cliff Simmons that will be right on the pace. Then there is the Mk2 of Julian Reynolds/Ian Oakey, which could be the quickest of the lot. What is certain is that the pace in class D5 is going to be ferocious.
But no one should see D5 as just about Ford Escorts. The Vauxhall Chevette of Rob Smith/Shaun O’Gorman is sure to fly on its BHRC debut, with the car more than capable of shaking up the Escort ranks. Then there is the class D4 Triumph TR7 V8 of Mike Anderson/Alan Brown as the driver returns to forest rallying after a lengthy break.
In D3, for the Pinto-powered Escorts, Guy Woodcock/Iwan Jones should go well even though Guy has done very little gravel rallying in his long career. The D3 benchmark should be the similar Mk2 Escort of Richard Lane/Frank Richer. In D2, Jacob Scannell and Nina Thompson make their BHRC debut in a 1600cc Escort Mk2.
The Bulldog Historic Rally is organised by Wolverhampton and South Staffs Car Club and starts at 7.45am on Saturday 28 March from Llangollen. For more details about the event, please visit the website at: www.bulldog-rally.co.uk