As crews head for Northumberland and the Otterburn Military Ranges for the UTS Cheviot Keith Knox Stages Rally, the final round of both the Richard Egger Insurance MSA Asphalt Rally Championship & BTRDA Asphalt Rally Series, the destination of three of the four main titles is still unresolved.
While Melvyn Evans claimed the MSA Drivers' Championship back in July with his fifth consecutive maximum points on the Sligo Stages Rally, the identity of the winning co-driver is still not known, as is either of the BTRDA Series winners.
With regard to the battle for the MSA Championship Co-drivers' title, the situation is currently thus…
Sean Mullally, who accompanied Melvyn Evans to four of his five maximums, leads the table but will not be present on Otterburn. Second-placed Alun Cook, who co-drives for David Mann in his Subaru Impreza WRC, is handily placed to move into the lead provided, of course, that he finishes the Cheviot. So, the pressure is on Mann/Cook to deliver, as a good result could also see Mann move into runner-up spot in the overall Drivers' table. The pair have some unfinished business in the north-east after clutch failure saw them heading home before the end of last year's event.
Meanwhile, the possible outcomes of the Richard Egger Insurance BTRDA Asphalt Rally Series are far more complicated! 2007 winner Adrian Spencer (Subaru Impreza) leads the Drivers' table while his co-driver, Mark Hewitt is second in his particular category. Mark Welch (Ford Escort Cosworth) is second driver, a mere one point in arrears while his partner, Andy Wynn, is the leading co-driver. Defending champion Chris Jones (Ford Focus STI) started this season as he meant to continue, with a couple of maximums, but then suffered consecutive retirements on the next two rounds. Runner-up spot on the recent Patriot Stages has moved the Welshman up to fifth place in the table and, with a score 'in-hand' over his rivals, another solid performance could still see him at the top by the close of play on the Cheviot. He has recruited class-winning MSA Championship regular Ashley Trimble to read the notes for the finale and their presence adds even more spice to the enthralling battle in prospect!
Behind Melvyn Evans in the MSA Championship, Roger Donnan has put in a series of excellent drives in his Ford Puma S1600. Usually accompanied by Kim Baker, the Stranraer driver has not only maintained a 100% finishing record, but has also been a revelation in his 1600cc car. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Roger finishes the season in 2nd place overall – and that would be a turn-up for the book!
Although not in line for any Championship honours this year, Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt have entered the Cheviot in their MG Metro 6R4. It may be remembered that these two were leading the event outright in 2006, with just a few stages to go, before gearbox woes intervened causing them to drop down the order.
Other registered MSA Championship contenders taking the start will be Geoff Glover/ Charlie Turner (Vauxhall Astra RWD), Martin Newson/Peter Morris (MG ZR), Richard Clews/Barry James (Ford Fiesta ST), David Hardie/John McCulloch (Subaru Impreza), Chris Rice (Group N Impreza), Roland Jones/Kate Gamez (MG ZR) and Ian Copping/Dave Rowley (Ford Fiesta RWD).
In the BTRDA Series, Gary Le Coadou/Paul Hollingham started the season very well in their Toyota Celica GT4, but non-finishes on the Rally of the Midlands and Patriot Stages served to put them on the back foot. However, a good result on the Cheviot could still see them end the year with a podium finish. Tim Daltry/Paul Ohren-Bird (Peugeot 205) have finished every event they have started and, while their class (C3) has already been won by Paul Boxall/Teresa Butler (Peugeot 205), they can consolidate their 2nd place in style!
Following a hefty shunt on the Jim Clark, we haven't seen much of Chris Marshall/Simon Hunter this year. Their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO5 was restored to its immaculate condition in time for the Eventsigns Mewla Rally at the end of August and repaid those who had put so much time and effort (and money!) into it with a second-place points finish. Marshall/Hunter's knowledge of the Otterburn Ranges has been accumulated over a lot of years and could well pay dividends as those at the sharp end of the table fight for every point they can get.
Newcomers to the BTRDA Series this year, Chris Daykin/Stephen Lloyd (Vauxhall Nova) have been sparring with Alison Lock (Austin Mini Cooper) on recent rounds and, with the latter's retirement last time out, there is everything to play for as the season draws to a close.
The first entry actually received by the UTS Cheviot Keith Knox Stages Rally organisers was from Andy Hicks/Richard Bliss who will be making the long journey up from Weston-Super-Mare with their Peugeot 106.