The strongest entry in the event's history is how experts are billing the 2009 Roger Albert Clark Rally, which starts in Pickering this Friday.

Among the field are previous winners Stig Blomqvist and Steve Bannister, former British Rally Champion Gwyndaf Evans, former British Historic Rally Champions Steve Perez and David Stokes, British rallying legends Steve Bannister, Phil Collins, Bob Bean and Jeremy Easson, pace-setting Irishmen Martin McCormack and Seamus O'Connell and top Belgian driver Stefaan Stouf.

"To be honest, I'm absolutely ecstatic about the level and quality of the entry," said rally manager Colin Heppenstall.

The leading drivers echo that view, and they all consider the entry to be the best yet in the six-year history of the rally.

"It's going to be the most competitive for a few years," said Steve Perez, who will return to his 1974 Lancia Stratos after contesting Rally GB last month in his Ford Focus World Rally Car.

"Without question it is the best entry we could have wished for; it is going to be magic," said David Stokes, who has supported the event from the beginning and finished second overall last year.

Making his debut on the rally and tipped by many as a strong contender for overall victory is Welsh ace Gwyndaf Evans, who will drive the Ford Escort entered by the team of former World Rally Champion co-driver Phil Mills.

"Our first priority is to enjoy the event," said Gwyndaf, who first competed on the original Lombard RAC Rally in 1987. "We're using some fantastic stages, although it's while since I was in places like Ae in Scotland. But we'll be doing our best."

In total, over 60 cars will gather at Pickering on Friday ahead of the opening special stages on Friday evening. After a full day of rallying in Yorkshire on Saturday, the action moves to South Scotland and Cumbria on Sunday before concluding in the notorious Kielder forest on Monday.