by Geoff Mayes

As the 2008 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship heads to Yorkshire for the penultimate round, the points' tables show that former champion David Higgins tops the charts, but with three wins on the trot brother Mark must surely hold a psychological advantage.

However reigning champion Guy Wilks will be hoping for a repeat of the 2007 running, when he stormed to a strong victory that formed the catalyst of his successful campaign.

The Pickering-based International Rally Yorkshire is the only single day rally in the championship but don't be fooled into thinking that it is a short little sprint event. Consisting of almost 100 miles of some of the fastest rally roads in the country, the stages running through the Langdale, Dalby and Cropton forests present a massive challenge to the competitors.

Whilst Mark Higgins, the multiple former champion, might have made the headlines for his on-stage performances recently, the championship has had to cope with a number of political dramas.

After former Mitsubishi pilot and TEG Sport new recruit Phillip Morrow was stripped of his team points after a fine drive on the Rally Ulster last month, three of the four teams threatened to pull out of the 2008 teams' championship race.

Whether this actually happens or not remains to be seen - but it is disappointing for such a closely fought battle to be diluted by clerical errors rather than being based on driver talent.

Regardless of what happens with the teams championship the overall drivers battle is one of the most fiercely fought in years.

David Higgins leads the title hunt courtesy of podiums on the opening three rallies. Handling issues with his N14 Subaru hampered him in Ulster but it is expected that the high speed nature of the Rally Yorkshire stages should suit both the car and driver.

The 'works' Mitsubishis of Wilks and Gwyndaf Evans both ran well here last year and are once again expected to be at the sharp end of the battle. Wilks knows that he needs a good result to stand any chance of defending his crown, as a combination of driving mistakes and mechanical issues on the last three rallies have placed the Mitsubishi pilot on the back foot.

The beneficiary of Wilks' troubles has been arch rival Mark Higgins, who has impressed in what is, essentially, a three year old Subaru Impreza N11. However whether the three generation old Subaru has the legs of the more modern cars remains to be seen.

Also wanting to get in on the act will be Higgins new team-mate Phillip Morrow. After being unceremoniously 'dumped' by Mitsubishi shortly before his home event Irishman Morrow secured a last minute deal to drive a TEG Sport Subaru Impreza N12 on the Ulster Rally. Despite minimal testing Phillip returned to the finish fourth overall and received the Pirelli Star drive award. Whilst not yet confirmed it is anticipated that Phillip will use the same car this weekend.

Reigning Pirelli Star driver Darren Gass will be looking for a drama free rally after a series of minor off road excursions on the last couple of rallies have hampered the young Irishman recently.

Young Wyn Humphries' rally is in jeopardy after his rally car was stolen on the day of the Ulster Rally. So far the team have had no joy in locating the stolen Impreza.

Others hoping for a good run include the Revolution Wheels Rally Team. Rob Swann heads to Pickering brimming with confidence after a strong showing in Belgium where he finished as the top foreigner and second in Group N. The stages should suit his Subaru N14 and Rob will be hoping for a good run this weekend.

His young team-mate James Wozencroft had his world turned upside down in Ireland after a 120mph roll destroyed his car. James has been lent another Subaru by preparation firm Geoff Jones Motorsport, and the British Rally Elite member will be hoping to repay Geoff Jones' faith in him this weekend.

There are likely to be battles raging throughout the field on Saturday. Whilst the S1600 Renault of Brian O'Mahony looks likely to be unchallenged in R3, class R2 should offer plenty of action. Battle resumes between the Clio of Adam Gould and the Puma of Luke Pinder and choosing a favourite for the Citroen C2R2 Cup will be a tough choice.

Jason Pritchard has fully recovered from the broken ankle that sidelined him at the beginning of the year and on last years event the young Welshman was the fastest Citroen pilot until mechanical gremlins stymied his run.

Current championship leader Andrew Hockridge admits he prefers gravel but has never contested the Yorkshire event before. Matt Cotton is still a contender for the title but really needs a good run this weekend in order to keep his championship hopes alive.

The Suzuki Swift Challenge has had a strong international flavour all year but for Rally Yorkshire it takes 'international' to a new level. Reigning Australian S1600 champion Molly Taylor has arranged for a one off drive in the series, with a view to possibly doing the full championship in 2009. Young Molly will go head-to-head with current series leader Mark Gamble who, along with opening round winner Gordon Nicol, has enjoyed success in these forests in the past.

Whilst the 2008 International Rally of Yorkshire might not have the largest entry, it certainly does not lack in quality and you can be guaranteed every class winner will be a deserving one.

The rally starts from Pickering Showgrounds on Saturday morning and, as well as stages in Dalby, Cropton and Langdale, also features a 'spectator stage' in the showgrounds at lunch time. The first car is expected to finish at around 5pm.