Defending British Rally Champion Guy Wilks will lead the field away when the Pirelli International Rally kicks off on Friday evening.

With a works Proton Neo Satria Super 2000 underneath him for his first BRC outing of the year, the double champion will be looking to become the first person to win a round of the British Championship at the wheel of one of the new age S2000 cars.

However Guy, who was forced to miss the opening round of the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship, will face stiff competition from not only his arch rival, multiple champion Mark Higgins, but also Bulldog International Rally winner Keith Cronin. Whilst Irishman Cronin has played down his chances of repeating his opening round victory, he will certainly be one to watch this weekend.

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The chasing pack certainly deserves keeping an eye on too. Whilst Stuart Jones will miss the Pirelli International Rally due to funding issues, he has completed the build of the Lico Wheels/ JR Motorsport Evo 10 which will make its debut in the hands of Icelandic Rally Champion Daniel Sigurdsson. Daniel will team up with reigning Evo Challenge winner David Bogie who will be hoping for a trouble free rally after struggling with turbo boost problems in Wales three weeks ago.

Bogie once again faces stiff competition from his homeland. Fellow Scotsman Euan Thorburn showed promise before sliding off on the Bulldog and a change of co-driver for 18 year old Dave Weston Junior could bring an extra turn of speed for the Aberdeen resident.

Competing in a similar car to Weston is 2008 Pirelli Star Drive winner Adam Gould, in a TEG Sport run Subaru N14. Adam impressed mightily last time out, finishing fourth overall on his four wheel drive debut and will be hoping for a similar run this weekend in Kielder. Last year Adam was leading the two wheel drive category when he broke the suspension on his Clio.

Returning to the championship is Irishman Phillip Morrow. After making the headlines following a sensational, and somewhat controversial, sacking by the works Mitsubishi team Phillip will be looking to reignite his career but faces stiff competition from fellow Irishman Richard Cathcart. Cathcart was one of the front runners in the Evo Challenge in 2008 before quitting the series mid way through the season. He returns to the British mainland at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza 12B this weekend and could be a dark horse for a podium position

The two wheel drive category has grown in numbers this year and once again the R3 class sees a number of Ford Fiestas entered. Taking the fight to the Fords' is Finnish driver Matti Rantanen, aboard Gould's 2008 Renault Clio. This is only Matti's second British Rally but following a strong showing in Wales he is keen to experience the infamous Kielder forests.

Class R2 will see Welshman Jason Pritchard resume his battle again Irishman Marty McCormack in a pair of Citroen C2R2 Max's. Reigning Suzuki Champion Mark Gamble returns in a similar Citroen as he continues his steep learning curve and Andrew Hockridge, the winner of the class here in 2008, will be hoping for a less stressful rally than last time out when his team had to rebuild his C2R2 Max the night before the rally after the car was involved in a collision with a tractor!

Class R1 is the home of the Swift Sport Cup and after upsetting the boy's last time out Australian Molly Taylor will be looking to do it again this weekend. But chasing the reigning Australian Lady Rally Drivers Champion will be a number of rapid pilots. Luke Pinder, Richard Sykes and David Harrison all have prior experience of these forests whilst Gordon Nichol took the class honours here a year ago.

The 2009 Pirelli International Rally features a new rally base at the Carlisle Racecourse but otherwise the format is the same as before. Two tough and demanding night stages on Friday night before the crews tackle a further ten treacherous tests in the infamous Kielder forest Complex throughout Saturday before returning to Carlisle for the ceremonial finish early on Saturday evening.

With a strong entry of 45 International competitors once again the premier division of British Rallying looks set to provide us with an action packed weekend of high speed rallying.

by Geoff Mayes