Last year's winner Mike Faulkner is aiming to make it 'two in a row' on Saturday's Station Garage Mitsubishi Granite City Rally - the third round of the 2010 Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship.

Faulkner has vowed to 'come out fighting' alongside co-driver Peter Foy after mechanical problems put paid to their challenge on last month's Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally.

"We were absolutely gutted by the non-finish in Jedburgh," admitted Faulkner: "I know dropped scores come into play later in the year, but it felt like all the hard work we put in on the opening round, where we took the final podium spot, was undone."

Faulkner said he was now more determined than ever to push for victory on the Aberdeenshire event in his Mitsubishi Evo 6.

"Our win there last year - our first SRC victory - was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our season. To win two on the trot is all we are focused on. If it comes off, it will be beyond what we ever thought was possible.

"The nature of the stages in Aberdeenshire is different again from those of the first two rounds. They're very technical, with a loose surface. They worked out great for us last year so we need to be confident we can put in another good performance."

As they set out to defend their Granite crown, Faulkner and Foy will face stiff competition from the likes of Snowman winner Jock Armstrong; Shaun Sinclair, who took maximum SRC points on Border Counties; reigning Scottish champion David Bogie; and current points leader Alick Kerr.

Double Granite winner Andy Horne, Lancashire's Wayne Sisson and last year's runner-up Barry Groundwater will also be aiming for a podium spot.

Armstrong managed just three miles of the first stage on the Border Counties before the gearbox of his Subaru Impreza failed - his first DNF in more than a year's rallying. The Castle Douglas driver is keen to get his championship campaign back on track, alongside navigator Kirsty Riddick.

"After the problems on the Border Counties, we decided to build a new gearbox for the car. We just couldn't take any chances", said Armstrong. "We need a win to pick ourselves up."

David Bogie held a five second lead over Faulkner going into the final stage of last year's Granite, but ditched his Mitsubishi Evo 9 on a tight hair-pin right while in first gear - the Dumfries driver commenting at the time that it was his 'slowest off ever'.

Twelve months on, Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae come off the back of a disappointing start to their British championship campaign in the same car - problems with lack of power, and a 7-minute time penalty for changing a tyre at an arrival control, making their Bulldog International outing a day to forget.

"We'll be using the Granite as a shakedown for the Pirelli International the following weekend", explained Bogie: "We can only hope that the problems we had with the car don't rear up again".

A resurgent Andy Horne is relishing a return to the stages where he claimed victory in 1996 and 2007. After failing to finish any of the eight SRC rounds last season, Horne replaced the V8 engine in his Metro-based DAM 4100GTi with a Jaguar V6 - and so far it appears to have paid off.

Horne currently sits second in the overall drivers' points after finishing sixth on both the Snowman and Border Counties alongside navigator Jim Howie.

"After all the problems of last season, the car is showing reliability at last," said the Inverness based driver: "We're not quite back on the pace yet, but hopefully we'll get there".

Shaun Sinclair and Chris Hamill were the class act on the Border Counties - chalking up their best SRC result with a maximum points haul. Sinclair currently tops the Hankook Group N rankings and lies third in the drivers' points in his Mitsubishi Evo 9.

The Oban crew are in confident mood as they prepare for the Granite, where last year they finished tenth in an Evo 6: "We're confident that if it all comes together on the day, then we can challenge at the very front end of the field", said Hamill: "The inclusion of some newer stages next weekend should help our relative lack of experience on the event".

They will be followed off the start-line by rally preparation expert Wayne Sisson from Lancashire, who will be contesting the Granite for the first time in his newly-built Evo 9. Two rounds into his first full SRC campaign, the hotly-tipped Sisson is looking to build on a fourth place finish on the Border Counties, alongside "new" co-driver David MacFadyen from Inverness.

"After the DNF on the Snowman, it was good to get round with no problems in a brand new car on the second round, and for David and I to get some mileage under our belts. Hopefully we'll be a bit more settled on the Granite," Sisson stated.

Runner-up in 2009, Netherley's Barry Groundwater is looking for another strong performance in his Evo 9 , alongside co-driver and fellow local competitor Daniel Paterson. The duo finished eighth overall, and seventh in the points on the Border Counties, a result which Groundwater felt 'set them up well' for their home event.

Another 'class act' of the 2010 season so far, has been the pairing of young Lanarkshire driver Alick Kerr and leading navigator Neil Shanks from Elgin. They finished second on the Snowman, and fifth overall, fourth in the points, on round two, propelling Kerr to the top of the overall drivers' rankings - four points ahead of Horne.

The Border Counties result was achieved despite Kerr's Subaru Impreza being 'down on power'. Since then a new turbo has been fitted, giving more BHP and torque, and the Bothwell-based 21-year-old is in positive mood ahead of the Granite test.

David Wilson from Alness, with Drew Sturrock of Laurencekirk on the notes, start ninth in a Mitsubishi Evo. They have had a difficult first two rounds, with a hard-earned 26th overall on the Snowman and a non-finish on the Border Counties.

The top ten is rounded off by Jim Carty in his Subaru Impreza WRC. The Elderslie-based driver finished eleventh overall on the second round, alongside co-driver Ian Fraser from the Isle of Mull.

Steve Bannister will be the man to beat in the battle of the Escort Mk2's - the Yorkshireman having again shown remarkable pace on the Border Counties to finish seventh overall alongside regular co-driver Louise Sutherland.

However, they will face strong competition from Northern Ireland's Frank Kelly and Arthur Kierans, with Malcolm Buchanan/Ian Nicholl and Mike Horne/Robbie Mitchell also pushing for class honours in their respective Mk2's.

With Aboyne hosting the rally start this year, local driver Stewart Davidson will be aiming to shine in front of the home support at the wheel of his Proton Satria. He currently shares the points lead in the 1600 category with Paisley's Alasdair Graham in a Vauxhall Corsa.

They will face a strong challenge for overall class honours from, among others, 2009 Scottish Junior Champion John MacCrone - who this year is contesting the British series in a Ford Fiesta R2 - and 2007 Scottish 1600 title holder Stevie Brown of Ellon, also in an R2, who is competing on his home event to raise awareness for the charity Cash for Kids.

For one local crew, just making it to the start will be a bonus. The Border Counties ended abruptly - and dramatically - for Banchory's Bruce McCombie and navigator Michael Coutts from Torphins, when their Subaru Impreza caught fire on the second stage. As well as awaiting parts destroyed in the blaze, McCombie is also trying to source a replacement turbo for his stricken car.

The first 2-wheel drive car will leave the start ramp in Aboyne at 8.30 on Saturday morning, followed an hour later by the 4WD contestants. The rally finish will be at the Thistle Hotel, Altens, with the first car due back around 3pm.


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