The Motorsport UK British Rally Championship will head for some of the finest gravel stages in Scotland next weekend, as it makes the long trip north for round four of series, the Voyonic Grampian Forest Rally [13 August].
Based just 15 miles west of Aberdeen near the town of Banchory, the Grampian will provide crews with blisteringly fast and flowing loose surface tests in the Durris, Fetteresso and Drumtochty forests in a one-day blast through the breath-taking landscape.
With only a handful of the BRC front-runners sampling the Kincardineshire forests in 2021, the event is likely to throw even more unpredictability into the mix, as the BRC1 top-flight, Junior BRC and National Rally Title protagonists battle for top honours and maximum championship points to boot.
The 2022 season has already provided intensely close competition across the categories with the asphalt of Essex opening proceedings at the Corbeau Seats Rally Tendring & Clacton before the popular Beatson’s Building Supplies Jim Clark Rally made a welcome return to the roster in May. The Nicky Grist Stages marked the switch to gravel in July and the highly regarded Scottish stages continue that theme before a return to asphalt in September.
The last time the BRC visited Banchory, it would be M-Sport’s Director and test driver Matthew Wilson who enjoyed a start-to-finish victory in his Fiesta Rally2 but judging by this year’s form, it’s unlikely to see such dominance from any of the BRC1 contenders.
Four-time BRC champion Keith Cronin currently heads the standings after three rounds, the Irishman and co-driver Mikie Galvin taking their Pirelli-shod Volkswagen Polo GTi to two runner-up spots and a win at the Jim Clark for good measure so far in 2022.
The battle between the Emerald Isle duo and last year’s championship runners-up Osian Pryce and Noel O`Sullivan has been a blistering affair so far, with Pryce taking first blood in Clacton, followed up by a win at the Nicky Grist. The only blot on their copybook was a zero score at the Jim Clark and the pairing are the nearest challenger to Cronin’s 11-point lead. Pryce seems much more settled in his Melvyn Evans Motorsport run Polo GTi and the Michelin-equipped machine could do well in Scotland.
James Williams and co-driver Dai Roberts will be aiming to bring their run of asphalt form onto gravel as their sealed surface results have seen them secure two podiums this season. A non-finish in the forests of Wales held them back in the points, but with dropped scores available as usual, the Hyundai i20 squad are very much still in the title fight.
Garry Pearson and Dale Furniss will be digging deep in their Hankook-backed Fiesta Rally2 in a bid to add to their Jim Clark Rally podium. Pearson is arguable the most experienced BRC contender on the Grampian stages and could well convert that into a rally winning pace.
He will be up against an ever-improving Jason Pritchard who scored his first BRC podium of the season in Wales. Visibly getting quicker as the miles tick by, Pritchard and co-driver Phil Clarke are up for the fight in their Polo GTi.
Elliot Payne is another to impress this season and after skipping the Nicky Grist, returns to the BRC for his first gravel event in the BRC1 category. You will not miss his Fiesta Rally2’s livery and with co-driver Patrick Walsh alongside, they could easily trouble the leaders.
Ruairi Bell and Max Freeman are long overdue a positive result after a rollercoaster of a season in their Skoda Fabia. Look out for Bell’s raw pace as he is more than capable of challenging for the lead.
Andy Davies did not stop smiling in Wales as he returned to the series after a mammoth Clacton crash. With Michael Gilbey on the notes, Davies enjoyed his first finish of the season and will be looking to build the pace in his Ford Fiesta.
National Rally Title
It’s 2019 National runner-up Alan Carmichael with Arthur Kierans at the top of the standings thanks to two wins so far this season in their Hyundai i20, but Mick O’Brien and Claire Williams are strong contenders to push for victory in their raucous Focus WRC.
William Mains enlists the services of Emily Easton-Page for only his second ever gravel event, using his Vauxhall Corsa and aiming to add to an impressive Grist podium. Despite being an asphalt ace, Mains will use his bonus points inducing Joker on the gravel next weekend.
Junior British Rally Championship
It was on the Grampian last year that Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan took their first Junior British Rally Championship win and they head to Banchory in the lead of the series thanks to a consistent run of form and a Jim Clark win in their Fiesta Rally4.
But they will be chased by Peugeot 208 Rally4 aces Kyle White and Sean Topping who are hot on their heels after being awarded the Nicky Grist victory due to an event administration error. Such is White’s confidence; he will utilise his Joker at the event.
Ioan Lloyd/Sion Williams got back into the grove in Wales after a large shunt on the Jim Clark, with some confidence-boosting times coming from the young pairing in their Peugeot 208 Rally2. Like Johnnie Mulholland/Eoin Treacy, each will be looking to rack up the points as the season beings to gather pace.
Six stages and 43 miles of competitive action lie in wait for the crews on Saturday with two opportunities for service throughout the day before the champagne finish celebrations at Milton of Crathes from around 16:20.