The eagerly anticipated battle for the 2009 Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Championship will get underway this weekend with the 24th running of the Bournemouth-based Rallye Sunseeker.
Six-time event winner and local hero Marcus Dodd, along with co-driver Andrew Bargery, will be looking to defend their title in a Hyundai Accent WRC and whilst the pair will start the Southern Car Club and Croydon & DMC organised event as favourites, there is the usual class entry following Dodd away from the start on Friday evening.
Whereas Dodd is the reigning Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Champion, and has taken the crown four times in total, he faces stiff opposition with three former champions making a return to the fold.
Roger Duckworth took the honours in 1998 and is back for another crack at the title in his venerable Subaru and having missed last year due to injury, 2004 winner Steve Perez has a latest version Ford Focus WRC at his disposal. Paul Bird sat out most of last year but the World Superbike team owner is back for a full season this year in his Subaru and hoping to reclaim the title he last won in 2005.
The likes of Will Nicholls (Subaru WRC), Charlie Payne (Mitsubishi WRC) and Steve Hendy (Ford Focus WRC) are also expected to be amongst the contenders as well as the Subarus of Sean Devine and Alan Cookson.
The Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge season also kicks off in Bournemouth with a host of drivers intent on emulating David Bogie's 2008 success. Nik Elsmore, Simon Hughes and Daniel Barry lead the field as all the contenders set out on the long road to success.
Other drivers who could make a splash on the two day event include Peter Egerton (Hyundai), Geoff Underhill (Subaru) and Melis Charalambous (Skoda Octavia WRC) plus there's a pair of iconic MG Metro 6R4s competing in the hands of Stuart Larbey and Richard Smith.
The international flavour is represented by a trio of Icelandic visitors in the shape of Andreas Magnusson, Hans-Erik Wung and Daniel Sigurdarson whereas Barbados driver Neil Armstrong will be behind the wheel of another Mitsubishi as part of a Rally Barbados promotion.
In the Mintex Two Wheel Drive Championship, the likes of Tom Walster (Renault Clio), Tony Jardine (Ford Fiesta) and Rod Bennett (Fiat Stilo) will be battling it out and as well as the main field, there are a dozen spectacular Land Rovers set to entertain the huge crowds expected on the South coast.