Points leader Jock Armstrong believes four or five drivers are in with a chance of winning this year's Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship, as it approaches the half-way stage.

The Castle Douglas competitor was speaking ahead of next Sunday's Jim Clark Reivers Rally - the only tarmac event of the eight-round series.

Currently, eight points cover the top four drivers - Armstrong; "Snowman" winner Reay Mackay; Mike Faulkner, who took his maiden SRC victory on last month's Granite City Rally; and David Bogie.

With competitors able to drop their two lowest scores from the final points tally at the end of the season, Armstrong - who also heads the Group N category - knows the pressure is on as he heads into an event he last contested in 2000.

Back then it was at the wheel of a Volkswagen Golf Gti - this time out it will be the recently-built Subaru Impreza N11 in which Armstrong and co-driver Kirsty Riddick have competed the last two rounds.

"It's untried on tarmac, but we'll have new springs to lower the car, making it slightly stiffer and hopefully it'll handle OK, "said Armstrong, adding: "I've been happy with the performance so far - it's been solid".

He continued: "I quite like the tarmac - it's a good change, to jump from one surface to the other, it brings out different drivers, different skills".

Fellow south-west of Scotland competitor David Bogie will tackle both the International and Reivers events as he continues his British and Scottish championship campaigns.

The 21-year-old Dumfries driver and navigator Kevin Rae will be targetting a podium finish on the Duns-based SRC round after throwing away a potential win on the Granite City.

Going into the last stage, they were leading Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy by five seconds when their Mitsubishi Evo 9 slid off the road at a tight hairpin, losing them three minutes.

"Obviously the mistake at the end cost us a very good result, so we'll need to use the Granite as a dropped score", said Bogie. "But we'll be putting that behind us, and pushing ahead on the Reivers for a strong finish".

He will start one ahead of the Subaru Impreza of local driver Euan Thorburn, who with experienced navigator Claire Mole, is also aiming for a podium spot after problems with the car forced a non-finish in Aberdeen.

With limited funding this season, victory on the Granite was just the boost Faulkner and Foy needed to keep their championship campaign on track: the Kirtlebridge-based driver declaring that he now feels he is in a position to challenge for the title in his Group A Mitsubishi Evo 6.

The 2008 champion Jimmy Girvan currently lies seventh in the drivers' points - 25 adrift of Armstrong - and is aiming for a repeat of last year's strong performance on the Reivers when, despite limited tarmac experience, he finished fourth overall and second of the SRC competitors in his Subaru Impreza.

Oban's Willie Bonniwell was leading the championship by a single point going into the Granite, but he was forced to retire early from the event after his Subaru Impreza was hit by gearbox problems. He will tackle the Berwickshire lanes alongside experienced navigator Dave Robson from Jedburgh.

Andy Horne is hoping for a change of fortune after three non-finishes in as many rounds at the wheel of his DAM 4100 GTI, while fellow Inverness competitor Donnie MacDonald is "excited" at the prospect of the asphalt challenge, having fitted bigger brakes and new dampers to his Mitsubishi Evo 9.

Stonehaven's Barry Groundwater and Jedburgh co-driver Jude Wylie finished as runners-up on the Granite in their Evo 9, and will be competing on the Jim Clark National Rally as a "warm-up" for the Reivers on the Sunday.

Said Groundwater: "As I only do one tarmac event per season, it's not usually my best event but nevertheless I do enjoy the Jim Clark, and with Jude back in the car this year, here's hoping!".

Shaun Sinclair from Oban is fifth in the SRC points in his Evo 6, and with co-driver Chris Hamill aims to maintain their top-ten status.

"The car is ready to go after the boost pressure and electrical problems encountered on the Granite", said Hamill, adding: "Wet weather would be an advantage to us in the overall standings, perhaps slowing down some of the faster 2-wheel drive cars".

Indeed last year's Reivers was blessed with bone-dry conditions which played into the hands of the leading Escort Mk2 competitors, with Yorkshire veteran Steve Bannister taking maximum SRC points.

Bannister and co-driver Louise Sutherland will again be part of a strong Mk2 contingent, which includes the Northern Ireland crews of Adrian Hetherington/Gary Nolan and Frank Kelly/Adrian Friel.

Among those out for class honours will be Newton Stewart's Mark McCulloch who, with co-driver Craig Wallace, has had an impressive start to the season in a newly-acquired Vauxhall Corsa.

Following a podium finish on the Granite, the 2008 Scottish Junior champion leads the drivers' points in the 1600 class.

"It will only be my fourth ever event on proper tarmac roads, " said McCulloch. "Two of those have been the Jim Clark, where once I retired after one stage and last year was a disaster from start to finish so I would love a clean run this time around! "

The Reivers will comprise 62 stage miles, much of it using road sections new to the event, with the rally headquarters and service area based at the new Berwickshire High School in Duns.


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