Contenders for the Richard Egger Insurance MSA Asphalt Rally Championship will head to the Isle of Man for the second round of this year's series, the RBS International Manx Rally next week, with three former event winners and two former champions amongst their number.

David Mann and Alun Cook were victorious in 2003 on their way to securing the National Gravel Rally Championship crown that same year. This time, they have set their sights on a similar goal within the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and, having opened their account with a healthy points score on the Epynt Military Ranges in the Brecon Beacons, are hopeful of progressing still further next weekend.

Melvyn Evans, co-driven on this occasion by Sean Mullally, took the spoils in 2002 in a Ford Escort WRC but he, too, now drives an Impreza WRC S11. Having been absent from the opening round on Epynt, the pair will be looking to get their Asphalt Championship campaign under way.

The third former event winner also doubles as an Asphalt Championship winner - on no less than twelve occasions! John Price can rest easy in the knowledge that his tally of victories is never going to be equalled, let alone beaten and it is also unlikely that the five titles amassed by his co-driver wife Caroline will ever be eclipsed. Synonymous with the iconic MG Metro 6R4, these two have been an integral part of asphalt rallying in the UK for more years than either would care to admit! Their Manx win came a decade ago, in 1998, while their most recent Championship title was in 2005.

Just last year 'JP' & Caroline were in contention for yet another Championship victory right up to the final round. However, it was not to be as an accident on the opening stage of the Cheviot National Rally, on the Otterburn Ranges, put them out of the event and allowed season-long leaders Steve Simpson and Mark Booth to add their names to the impressive list of Asphalt Championship winners since the series was first introduced 25 years ago.

Simpson returns in his quest to take back-to-back titles, while David Kynaston and Andy Russell would dearly love to add another to their first which came in 2006. The Devonian crew arrive on the island as Championship leaders following a maximum score on Epynt but will be under no illusions as to the task facing them.

Joining the ranks of Metro 6R4 crews, John Stone and Lee Carter, as well as Mark Jasper and Don Whyatt have cars which, like that of the Prices, are without doubt the quickest and smartest examples still competing at the highest level. The sound of the normally aspirated V6 engine being driven flat-out has always been a great crowd-pleaser and will bring spectators out in droves.

Mitsubishi Lancers appear in the hands of Tommi Graham and Mike Bailey, who were third overall in the 2007 Asphalt Championship, and former Group N winners Chris Marshall and Simon Hunter, whilst there is a solitary Ford Escort Cosworth for Lee Perry and Peter Williams.

Robert Tout leads the Group N runners in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9, while the battle for two-wheel drive honours is shaping up to be quite some contest. An excellent run over Epynt saw Simon Mauger and Brian Cammack bring their Ford Escort RS home to 5th in the points, with the similar car of Graham Hollis and Ashley Trimble in close attendance. The Darrian T90 of Ashley Field and Janice Hooley and David West (Peugeot 306 Maxi) are also in there fighting.

West leads the 'Front-Wheel Drive' category from the Honda Civic Type 'R' of Richard Butler and Matt Dubber, with Championship newcomers Tracey-Louise and Garry Muir next in their Citroen AX.

Meanwhile, Mauger, Hollis and Field occupy the first three 'Rear-Wheel Drive' places, ahead of the Vauxhall Astra RWD of Geoff Glover and Charlie Turner and Ian Copping's Ford Fiesta RWD.

Dave Price (Ford Escort MkVI RWD) suffered a fraught start to the season with retirement on Epynt after a hub broke on the second stage. His efforts to get amongst the 'movers and shakers' in the 'Rear-Wheel Drive' category will start again on the Manx.

MG ZRs feature prominently in the small-engine classes, with Niki Hartley leading N1 and Martin Newsonand Roland Jones neck and neck in A5.

Amongst those looking to the Isle of Man for an opportunity to get their season back on track are Richard Clews and Paul Harewood. Clews' Peugeot 106 was an early casualty on Epynt, while Harewood's Vauxhall Astra didn't reach the end of the opening stage after a driveshaft failed.

Over the years, the RBS International Manx Rally has built up a reputation as a hugely enjoyable, but very tough, event and one which competitors return to time and time again. The vagaries of the British climate can play a part in the eventual outcome but, with precious few exceptions, it is experience that counts - and there's only one way to get that.


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