With a first win of the season under his belt, multiple British Rally champion Mark Higgins heads home to the Isle of Man with an apparent psychological advantage. But after Irishman Keith Cronin won the recent non-championship Ravens Rock Rally in Ireland, beating more powerful World Rally Cars along the way, it is gloves off for round four.

As the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship enters the second half of the season Higgins and Cronin are split by a mere two points, Cronin having ripped up the form book on both the gravel rounds.

But, while a puncture cost him two minutes on the recent Jim Clark International Rally, the fight back was a major talking point as the young Irishman closed to within three seconds of Higgins before settling for second.

Whilst Higgins has won this weekend's event a number of times over the past ten years, Cronin does have an idea of what to expect when he tackles the high speed Manx lanes.

Indeed in 2008 the Mitsubishi pilot won Group N on the equally competitive Manx National Rally.

Higgins meanwhile will be surrounded by a horde of youngsters and will be hoping that experience will once again triumph over modern machinery as he continues to campaign his ageing Subaru N11 which has served him well for the past two seasons.

Although the overall fight has so far been between Higgins and Cronin there are a number of youngsters hovering around the fringes of the podium.

David Bogie took his first podium on the Pirelli Rally but failed to get much mileage on the Jim Clark Rally and thus his Mitsubishi Evo 10 is still an unknown quantity on tarmac.

2008 Pirelli Star drive winner Adam Gould took the final podium position on the Jim Clark Rally and already seems to be at home in his prize drive Subaru Impreza N14.

Alister Fisher and Jonnie Greer have both been regularly inside the top five all year long and their Evo 9's are proving to be both reliable and rapid.

Euan Thorburn, dovetailing an attack on the Scottish Championship alongside his BRC aspirations, impressed mightily on the Jim Clark but, with this being his first visit to the island, the young Scotsman could err on the side of caution.

Another Manx virgin is teenager Dave Weston Junior who will continue his learning curve this weekend.

Rob Swann was absent from the last round as the BRC regular was away contesting Rally Barbados at the wheel of his Subaru N14. A fine second in Group N on the island rally has put him in good spirits and with plenty of experience of the Isle of Man under his belt he could spring a few surprises.

The majority of the machinery contesting this event is two-wheel drive and battles can be expected across the classes.

Finnish driver Matti Rantanen will again go head-to-head with Tommi Walster in their pair of Renault Clios, whilst a number of Ford Fiestas make up the bulk of the class.

The top five challengers in the Fiesta SportTrophy are separated by a mere five points after five rounds and as such the action should be fierce this weekend.

Class R2 is the home of the Citroen Racing Trophy and these little screamers are the perfect training ground for drivers.

Marty McCormack currently leads the series but reigning champion Jason Pritchard will want to replicate his dominant victory of 2008.

Joining the pair in a four way fight is Andrew Hockridge, who won the class on the Manx National earlier this year, and Mark Gamble, the reigning Swift champion.

Meanwhile Class R1 is made up primarily of Suzukis.

Australian Molly Taylor upset the boys by winning the opening two rounds but will contest only her second ever tarmac rally this weekend and might wish to focus on points and gain experience rather than challenging for outright honours.

Richard Sykes, Luke Pinder and Gordon Nichol have all been on the pace recently and anyone of these drivers could taste the champagne on Saturday afternoon.

Based in Douglas but utilising the many narrow closed public roads that the island has to offer the International Rally Isle of Man is recognised as one of the toughest rallies in Europe, with the fickle weather conditions playing an important part in the overall results.

Twenty stages run over two days mean that the driver, co-driver and car are tested continually, making victory on this event all the more rewarding.

by Geoff Mayes

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