The first round of the 2009 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge will kick off today with the traditional season-opener; the Bournemouth-based Rallye Sunseeker.
Once again, the official series for homologated Group N Lancer Evolutions has attracted a high-quality entry and, in true Evolution Challenge fashion, it will be difficult to predict a winner for the season ahead.
This year sees ten crews line up for the start which, in comparison with other years, is a reduction in entries although the ongoing economic climate is likely to have a played part in proceedings.
First off the line is last year's runner up Nik Elsmore, who will be starting his sixth full season with the series and is one of the favourites to take the title. Right behind him is young Irish charger Daniel Barry, who has the pace to win events and will now also be looking for consistency in his newly built Evo IX.
Third in line is series newcomer Simon Hughes, who is another driver to watch, but admits he is still getting used to his Mitsubishi in his first full-season of four-wheel-drive. He is followed by another quick young Irishman Owen Murphy, who proved his pace on asphalt last year by being a front-runner in the Irish Evo Challenge and now turns his attentions to gravel.
The next two entries are from Sweden: Andreas Magnusson, who won the 2008 Swedish Evo Challenge and was awarded a free entry to the Rallye Sunseeker and Hans-Erik Weng. Having finished just behind Magnuson in his home series, Weng was also keen to experience UK rallying for the first time and is looking forward to debuting his Evo X – the first time Mitsubishi's new Lancer will be seen in competition in Britain.
Having contested the UK Evo Challenge in 2007 and then being a leading light in the Irish version in 2008, Ulsterman Alan Carmichael returns to the British series for 2009, determined to put his experience and recent top form to good use.
Another Evo Challenge returnee is the charismatic Icelandic Rally Champion Daniel Sigurdarson, who has vowed to show just what he is capable of this weekend. He is followed by a driver who has travelled even further to be part of the Evolution Challenge, Neil Armstrong from Barbados.
Challenge regular Jonathan Sparks sets off on his fourth consecutive season in the Mitsubishi Championship and hopes that his knowledge of the events and experience in the series will stand him in good stead this season.
The Rally Sunseeker gets underway tonight, when the 80-car field tackles the two spectacular night-time stages from the centre of Bournemouth, through the botanical gardens and along the sea front road.
Saturday sees a further eleven timed special stages, all of which take place on gravel roads in the forests around Ringwood, Verwood and Wareham. The event finishes back in Bournemouth town centre at 6.00pm.