Reigning champions Clive Wheeler and Ken Bartram will be bidding to win their second successive Castrol Polo Challenge title next Saturday [27 September].

The West Sussex duo and their Group N Polo will start Yorkshire's Trackrod National Rally holding a 17-point series lead and with everything to play for on the championship's penultimate round.

Class victory on the Trackrod would settle the title in favour of Albourne-based Wheeler irrespective of where his title rivals Jari Laakso and Kenny Brown were to finish - if as expected Wheeler plays his 'Joker' card in Yorkshire, which would add 50 per cent to any points he scored.

Wheeler and Bartram will be hoping to do just as they did on the Trackrod in 2002; win in style and settle the championship with a round in hand. As last year, their prize would be a brand new Volkswagen Polo road car.

If event victory isn't possible, second or third in class on the Trackrod would do for Wheeler, so long as it isn't Laakso who takes the win.

Both Finland's Jari Laakso and Lancashire-based Kenny Brown played their Jokers on the last Castrol Polo Challenge round, the Manx; Laakso squandered his with a non-finish but Brown, who is co-driven by his uncle, Alan Brown, came up trumps with a maximum score. But Kenny's title hopes are the faintest of the three; his best chance rests on Wheeler and Laakso failing to score in Yorkshire.

Wheeler took class honours on the two opening rounds of the championship, the Pirelli Northumbria Rally and the Wales-based Red Dragon Rally, while Laakso and his co-driver Kari Hytonen claimed victory on the Scottish Rally and the Jim Clark Memorial Rally. Allpoint Hire-backed Brown was the first Polo Challenge finisher home on the Isle of Man.

With Sophie Robinson away tackling the World Cup Rally and rapid Swede Anders Fredricsson unable to attend through illness, Essex driver Paul Green stands a good chance of claiming a large haul of championship points in his Lindvale Volkswagen-backed car. Green, who is co-driven by Martin Kernick, is currently seventh in the championship.

The Trackrod National Rally features nine special stages and 63 miles of competitive driving in the Yorkshire forests. The event starts and finishes in Malton town centre; central servicing and two spectator stages are to be held at Pickering Showground.

Provisional championship placings: 1 Clive Wheeler (Albourne), 124 points; 2 Jari Laakso (Finland), 107; 3 Kenny Brown (Heywood), 95; 4 Sophie Robinson (Moreton Morrell), 80; 5 Mark Annand (Aberdeen), 67; 6 Anders Fredricsson (Sweden), 56; 7 Paul Green (Chelmsford), 36, etc.



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