Entries for the opening round of the Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship have surpassed all expectations with more than 130 cars due to line up for the start in Inverness this coming weekend.

The Arnold Clark/Thistle Hotels Snowman Rally on Saturday February 14 has attracted a top-quality field, headed by last year's winner, Scottish champion Jimmy Girvan, in his Subaru Impreza N10.

However, he will face a strong challenge on his home event from, among others, David Bogie (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9), Mike Faulkner (Evo 6); Andy Horne (DAM 4100 GTi); Jock Armstrong (Subaru Impreza N12); Dave Weston Jnr (Subaru Impreza N14), and Euan Thorburn (Subaru Impreza).

Last year, Bogie was vying with Girvan for the overall Scottish title before crashing out on the penultimate round - allowing the Inverness veteran to pick up his second crown.

This season, the 21-year-old Dumfries driver will contest the series at the wheel of his GpN Mitsubishi Evo 9, which he used on the SRC rounds two years ago before switching to a hired Toyota Corolla WRC.

It is also the car in which he took top honours in the 2008 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evo Challenge - winning him a prize-drive in the MSA British Rally Championship, which he will contest this year alongside the SRC.

"The plan is to go out and win GpN and hopefully take the overall Scottish title as well," said Bogie. "There are quicker cars out there, but I think the GpN car is more than capable of winning this year."

Mike Faulkner finished runner-up to Girvan last year as well as taking the GpA title in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.

"We want to go one better this year, but the competition looks as fierce as ever - there are some really quick guys out there, "said Faulkner. "But that's how it should be - a big challenge - things are looking good for the Scottish Championship".

Jock Armstrong - winner of the Galloway Hills Rally in December - will compete on the Snowman for the first time since 1990.

Back then, he was at the wheel of a Vauxhall Nova 1300: this time out he will drive a hired ex-Mark Higgins Subaru Impreza N12 - used on the 2007 BRC - while work continues to complete Armstrong's own N11, hopefully in time for the second round in March.

Armstrong will be accompanied by Scottish Co-drivers' champion, Kirsty
Riddick: the pair having won the national Subaru Cup together in 2007.

The two-wheel drive entries for the Snowman are equally impressive, with the prospect of an exciting 'Scotland versus Ireland' tussle amongst the Escort
Mk2 competitors.

Regular front-runners Calum MacKenzie, John Crawford, Steve Bannister and Mike Horne will be pitted against Irish stars Frank Kelly, Adrian Hetherington and Viv Hamill.

In the 1600cc category, Bruce McCombie will again be the man to beat in his Ford Puma.

Scottish Junior champion Mark McCulloch steps up a class, having traded in his Peugeot 205 Gti for a Vauxhall Corsa - bought as a caged shell, and on which work began just before Christmas.

"The Snowman is going to be a steady run, to try to get some mileage in the car," said the 21-year-old Newton Stewart-based driver. "The main aim is to get to the end, as it's the only SRC event I haven't yet managed to finish".

Other young drivers aiming for a strong finish on the day include: Bothwell's Alick Kerr (Ford Fiesta ST) and Perth-based Scott Murray at the wheel of his Peugeot 205 Gti.

Campbell Roy, chairman of the Scottish Rally Championship, meanwhile said the strength and depth of the Snowman entries was hugely encouraging.

"Obviously with new sponsor Hankook on board it gives everybody a lift - they have been very enthusiastic and keen supporters of the championship - and it's reassuring to see such a splendid entry for the Snowman, taking into account the current economic climate. Our aim now would be to maintain that level across the eight rounds," he stated.

"What I feel is exciting about this year is that there is any one of half a dozen - perhaps even ten drivers - who would have a realistic claim to winning the championship.

"In previous years, those with the means could field superior World Rally Cars - whereas this year all the top runners will be in similar GpN or GpA type machinery which will bring it down to driving ability - and we are delighted with that".

This year's Snowman sees a return to some of the more familiar forests around Inverness including some previously unused stage miles. On leaving the Rally HQ at the Thistle Hotel in Inverness, competitors will head out to the first of five stages, totalling just over 44 miles and with no double usage. Central servicing will take place at the Black Isle Showground.