After a year’s sabbatical from the series, the Modern Tyres Ulster Rally sees the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship return to Northern Ireland for the prestigious two-day closed-road event next weekend [18/19 August].
Having hosted a sensational 2021 BRC finale where the title was decided on the closing stages in Matt Edwards’ favour, the challenging lanes around the Newry base will also see the British and Irish Tarmac Rally Championship crews resume their friendly rivalry for the top spot.
This time around, the Ulster Rally marks the fourth round of the British Rally Championship season and the third asphalt event of four in a row, meaning many crews will be on form as they gain momentum on a sealed surface. A refreshed look to the itinerary means a new challenge for returnee’s, with over 32 miles of flat-out action lying in wait as dusk arrives on Friday night.
Saturday offers six tests and 65 miles in daylight, but the mixture of tight and twisty lanes, smooth open roads, and the Northern Ireland weather, means it’s sure to be as daunting as ever for the BRC protagonists.
Not only will they have Irish regulars and former BRC contenders such as Callum Devine, Josh Moffett, and Jonny Greer to contend with, but they will also have to battle against World Rally Championship WRC2 ace, Adrien Fourmaux who heads to the event fresh from an impressive performance at WRC Rally Finland last weekend.
The Frenchman launched himself into the BRC in March with victory on M-Sport’s home turf in the forests of Cumbria and continued his winning ways with victory at the Jim Clark Rally and Ypres in his Ford Fiesta Rally2.
With three wins, he and Alex Coria have control of the title fight, but with their plans for the remainder of the season unconfirmed, the championship is far from a foregone conclusion. Add in double points on the final round of the season, the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally and up to four contenders are still in with a chance of taking the spoils.
Volkswagen Polo pilot Garry Pearson has been quietly racking up the points this season and apart from a non-finish on the Jim Clark, has done enough to throw his hat into the title ring despite having to get used to the Polo this season. With former WRC co-driver Daniel Barritt alongside, Pearson may well employ a tactical game to further enhance his chances and playing his Joker is a sign of that intent.
It’s also the return of BRC4 contenders Steve Waugh and Mark Broadbent in Ulster. The Ford Fiesta R2T pairing was another to skip the Belgian trip but will continue to build experience and mileage for the future as they too, head to Northern Ireland for the first time.
The Junior BRC fight reignites as the young hotshots aim for category glory. Lisburn’s Kyle White and Sean Topping are in the pound seat in their Peugeot 208 Rally4 and compete on familiar stages. On home soil, they will be hard to beat but simply cannot afford to relax.
Kyle McBride and Liam McIntyre are not far behind in the standings, as they enjoy a hattrick of second places already this season; a win in Ulster would draw them ever closer to the top. The Fiesta Rally4 crew have endured a tough season, so a clean run could net big points at the weekend.
But Casey Jay Coleman enjoyed his first Junior BRC victory in Ypres and cannot be ruled out of another win on an event closer to home. The Irishman and co-driver Lorcan Moore have been building the mileage outside of the BRC in 2023, and their pace is hotting up as a result.
Ballymena’s Alan Carmichael will be looking for the National win in his Hyundai i20 R5, to add to his Jim Clark maximum score. He has Claire Williams on the notes this time around and knows the stages well, meaning a solid overall performance is on the cards.
After the Newry start, the action gets underway on Friday afternoon with a repeat loop of two stages before an overnight halt. Saturday provides the bulk of the mileage, with three stages repeated, before the ceremonial finish back in Newry in the late afternoon.