The unique challenge of the Isle of Man marks round five of the Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the Isle of Man Historic Rally on 9-10 July.
The annual trip across the water to the Isle of Man is always one of the highlights of the BHRC schedule. Two full days of intense competition on the island roads makes the Isle of Man Historic Rally a fitting event for this prestigious championship and the 2009 edition should be a cracker.
Heading the category one entry is the Sunbeam Tiger of son and father crew Jonathan and Graham Gale. This is the car used so effectively by Patrick Watts over the last two seasons and Gale is now driving it with panache. This is the car that is likely to set the pace out of the blocks, but the Isle of Man represents perhaps the best opportunity for Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride to really take the fight to Gale. They know the island incredibly well and their Porsche 911 is always strong there, so they will be chasing hard to add another Manx victory to their tally.
Adding further strength to the class B5 field is former Escort crew Rikki Proffitt and Phill Harrison in the ex-Steven Smith Porsche 911. This is a new venture for Proffitt, and his pace will be the major talking point in category one. In the other classes in category one, BHRC title contenders Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell will be leading B4 runners in their Lotus Cortina, while the Isle of Man debut for Alan Honess/Tim Sayer in their class B3 Ford Cortina GT will be interesting to watch. Isle of Man veterans John and Stephen Moxon are back with their Volvo Amazon 122S to contest their 36th rally on the island.
This event always brings out a contingent of very quick Mini Coopers from the island and Ireland, including the car of Stephen Higgins/David Corlett, while a welcome return is made by son and father crew, Matt and Dood Pearce in their Cooper S. Then, all the way from Japan come Shinobu Kitani and Makoto Mizoi to compete in their Mini Cooper S. In class B1, Gary and Jane Edgington will again deliver a heroic performance in their Singer Chamois.
Category two is for the cars from 1968 to 1974, so this is all about Ford Escorts and Porsche 911s. Heading the field will be BHRC title contenders Rupert Lomax and David Alcock in their Escort Mk1. Rupert will be one of the most spectacular drivers on the island and if it all holds together, he will be very tough to beat. Out to stop the North Wales driver will be David Stokes/Guy Weaver and Ernie Graham/Ashley Trimble in two more very quick Mk1 Escorts, while Bob Bean and Malcolm Smithson are out again in their Mk1.
However, the island has always been good to the Porsches in category two and at least four of them could feature strongly. Most notable is the car of reigning BHRC champions Steven Smith and John Nichols, out for the first time this season to contest their favourite event. They are a bit out of practice, but will surely feature as the event progresses. Irish veteran Derek Boyd and his daughter Roisin will be very strong, as will Peter Smith/Graham Wild and Peter Lythell/Gill Cotton.
Class C3, for the Pinto-engined Escort Mk1s is one of the most competitive of the BHRC and another mighty contest is in prospect. The key players are XS Racing stable mates Drew Wylie/Howard Pridmore and Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson along with Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes and James Slaughter/Phil Peak. With category pacesetter Tim Jones electing to miss this event, his rivals will take the chance to narrow the points' gap.
Category three is for the most recent cars up to 1981. This is all about Escort Mk2s and the top D5 cars will surely set the overall pace. Star entry is the Escort of Gwyndaf Evans/Huw Lewis, the car built by World Champion co-driver Phil Mills. Their rivals include Darren Moon/Chris Parsons and Will Onions/Tim Hobbs, but the arrival of Mark Solloway and Den Golding in the entry list could really spice up the action. Solloway has limited experience of the island, but will surely be very quick indeed.