The penultimate round of this year's Scottish Rally Championship will be played out in the Galloway Forest on Saturday - and it promises to be a memorable encounter.

The Merrick Forest Stages Rally has attracted a top class field with entries from north and south of the border, as well as Northern Ireland.

Twelve months ago, Jimmy Girvan and young rival David Bogie ended the Merrick in a dead heat: the advantage and outright rally win going to Girvan under tie-break rules, while Bogie secured the Group N title for showroom-spec cars.

This time around the stakes are higher, with both drivers chasing the Scottish title: a fight which is destined to go to the wire on the final round, the McRae Stages, at the end of the month.

Bogie stormed back into contention in the second half of the season, scoring full points on both the 'Scottish' and the 'Speyside' in his hired Toyota Corolla WRC.

The 21-year-old now has three maximum points scores, to Girvan's two, and, with the six best scores out of eight deciding the championship, the pair are equal on 116 points apiece, with two rounds remaining. .

"I need to come out of the Merrick with the outright Scottish championship points to keep the title race alive", said Bogie. "I think it is well within my grasp - they are good stages, last year I thoroughly enjoyed them".

Girvan, with co-driver Kirsty Riddick, has been the model of consistency all season in his TEG-Sport Subaru Impreza.

"We have to win at least the Merrick, or the McRae Stages, to have a good chance of the championship," said the 1990 title holder. "We have led from the start of the year, and to be equal with David with just two rallies remaining means that we all have to go flat out from here on in".

Third seed on Saturday is Inverness-based Andy Horne, who with navigator Jim Howie, will be back in action in his recently re-built DAM 4100GTi.

They achieved a solid sixth place overall on the last round, the 'Speyside', having been out of competition since the Border Counties in April, when the car sustained heavy damage.

The pair will be hoping for better luck on Saturday than their outing in the Galloway Forest in 2007, when they were forced to retire on the first stage with the car overheating.

One driver tipped as a possible outright winner on Saturday, is fourth-seeded Connor McCloskey, who is making the trip over from County Londonderry.

22-year-old McCloskey currently leads the Pacenotes MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship and will be competing in a Ford Focus WRC.

Starting one car further back is Oban's Wiliam Bonniwell, with Mull-based Ian Fraser on the notes, who were heading for a top ten finish on the 'Speyside', before going off the road in their Subaru Impreza.

Mike Faulkner finished third overall on the Speyside and - with long-time navigator Peter Foy - is looking for another podium finish on Saturday, in his Group A specification Mitsubishi Evo 6 which starts sixth.

"We have enjoyed good results on the Galloway Forest stages in the past - both in Group N, and the one-make championship rounds, and will be aiming for another podium finish", said Faulkner. "It's always difficult to beat the world rally cars of David Bogie and Jimmy Girvan, but it's all possible with a little luck and magic!"

Faulkner will be joined by team-mate Steven Clark, who missed the last round because he was taking part in a charity drive to Cameroon. He currently lies fifth overall in the championship, and second in Group N in his Mitsubishi Evo 4.

Clark will be accompanied on the Merrick by rookie co-driver Neil Mullen of Carlisle, whose name was drawn from a short-list of those who were closest to guessing the total mileage of the African trip.

"I'm looking for a top ten finish, and at least within two places of Group N leader Barry Groundwater, which would mean we'd be level going into the final McRae Stages round," said Clark.

Stonehaven-based Groundwater - with regular navigator Jude Wylie of Jedburgh - have had solid results over recent rounds - a sixth placed finish on the "Scottish", was followed by a seventh overall on the "Speyside"

Up and coming Scottish Borders' competitor Euan Thorburn is also out for a strong finish at the weekend to add to his fifth place last time out in his dad Alistair's Subaru Impreza. Once again he will be assisted by experienced navigator Claire Mole.

For the first time, the "Merrick" will start and finish from the centre of Newton Stewart, with competitors heading first to the 6.23 mile Loch Derry stage, before going on to tackle Drumjohn - at 8.83 miles.

The cars will then return to the central service area at Glencaird, near Glentrool village, before setting out for three stages at Arroch Hill (7.26 miles), Balloch (3.40 miles) and Linfern (3.25 miles).

It is then back to Glencaird for a 70 minute service break, before the final challenge of the day - the famous 14.04 mile Glentrool stage, which is being run in the opposite direction to last year.

As well as being the penultimate round of the County Saab Scottish series, the rally - jointly organised by the Machars and Scottish Sporting car clubs - is also a counter in the Beatsons Scottish Borders Rally Championship, the Palmerston Furniture Five of Clubs series, and the Motoscope Northern Historic Championship.