The Mitsubishi Ralliart Evo Challenge heads for Northumberland this weekend for the second round of the 2009 season, the Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally.
Although entry numbers are reduced from those usually enjoyed by the official series for Group N Lancers, with just five of the ten registered crews making the trip to the Borders, the competition is destined to be as fierce as ever.
First of the Evo Challenge runners to leave the start in Jedburgh will be round one victors Daniel Barry and co-driver Marttn Brady, who will be looking to carry on from where they left off three weeks beforehand in Bournemouth after a strong run on the season-opening Rallye Sunseeker.
Following them into the forests will be runner-up last time out Simon Hughes, who will be partnered for the first time this season by experienced co-driver Craig Parry. Hughes made a good impression on his first Evo Challenge outing last month and almost won, finishing just 2.8 seconds behind Barry/Brady.
Third off the start-line will be Nik Elsmore/Craig Drew, who are always seen at the front of the Evo Challenge field. They led the opening round and will be out to prove that this time, they can maintain their pace throughout the day.
Having had to contend with handling problems during the Rallye Sunseeker, Owen Murphy/Dai Roberts are aiming to make amends this time round. They will certainly be a crew to watch and may well spring a surprise on the others.
Last year's Irish Evo Challenge front-runners Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont are next in line. Having contested mainly asphalt events in 2008, the Ulster-based pair admit that they are still building on their gravel pace and will be aiming for a good haul of points this weekend.
Notable by their absence are the foreign competitors who provided the Mitsubishi Championship with an international flavour in round one. However, all have promised to return during the season: clashing events, car preparation and business commitments cited as the restricting factors for making the trip to the UK this time.
The format of the Border Counties Rally changes this year, with the organisers introducing for the first time two night-time stages on Friday evening. Following the overnight halt, crews will then embark on a further five stages on Saturday to give a total stage distance of 60 miles before returning to Jedburgh for the finish in the afternoon.