The stunning asphalt challenge of the closed public roads of the Isle of Man forms round five of the Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the Isle of Man Historic Rally (17-19 July).
Aside from all the major title contenders, the rally should also mark the welcome return to rallying of Jimmy McRae on his first competitive run since his accident on the Pirelli Historic Rally in April.Category 1Hot favourite for glory in category one (for the pre '68 cars) is the Sunbeam Tiger of Patrick Watts/Elgan Davies. The former touring car racer has got the V8 Tiger flying along and will want to win on the island after retiring last year with a blown engine.
However, Watts knows he will be hard pressed by the Porsche 911 of Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride. Dessie is a real asphalt ace and knows the Isle of Man roads very well. On gravel, the Tiger is now more than a match for the Porsche, but things could be different this weekend.
Close behind Watts and Nutt in category one will be the rapid Lotus Cortinas, and this is set to be a three-way fight. Veteran Bob Bean, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, is having a great season and has young James Whitaker on the notes, so there is an age gap not far short of 50 years inside the car. Neil Calvert and Arlene Cookson head to the island with the overall BHRC lead, so they are eager for another strong result, while the hard-charging Jonathan Gale makes a welcome return with his father Graham in the co-driver's seat.In the 1300cc category, class B2, James Stait and Gill Cotton are having a great season in their MG Midget and will go up against the rapid Mini Cooper of son and father team Matt and Dood Pearce. Meanwhile, in B1, the battle is between the Hillman Imps of Gary and Jane Edgington and Mike Barratt/Jody Watson.Category 2Category two is for the cars produced from 1968 to 1974 and it is Steven Smith and John Nichols who head the entry in their Porsche 911RS. They are real Isle of Man aces and rate this as one of their favourite rallies, so another strong run is highly probable. Ranged against Smith in more Porsches are Irish veteran Dessie McCartney and French-based Peter Lythell, but it is a gaggle of Ford Escort Mk1s that will be battling for category honours. Top dogs should be David Stokes/Guy Weaver, but chasing hard will be Ernie Graham/Robin Kellard and Rupert Lomax/David Alcock.
Likely to set the pace in C3 for the Pinto-powered Escorts is the car of Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes, but their rivals include the fast-improving Peter Smith/Howard Pridmore and Drew Wylie/Neil Ewing from the XS Racing squad. In C2, for the 1600cc cars, Neil Rudd and Brian Hodgson head the BHRC contenders.Category 3Category three is for the most recent cars, those produced between 1975 and 1981, and is home for the Ford Escort Mk2s. However, this is also the category for McRae/Andy Richardson in their slightly later Porsche 911RS. McRae, a past master of this event when he was a multiple British championship winner, will go up against the similar car of local ace Adrian Kermode and Irishman Maurice Beckett.A bunch of very quick Escorts will give McRae and Kermode plenty to think about, too, and it is Richard Hill and Patrick Cooper who have been flying along on the gravel rounds of the BHRC this season. However, Hill's last visit to the island – in a Mitsubishi Evo – ended with a big accident, so he's determined to keep out of trouble this time.
Other very quick Escorts include those of two of the most spectacular crews on the rally, Dick Slaughter/Geoff Dearing and Simon Tysoe/Rob Dyson, while Frank Cunningham/Ryland James will also be great to watch in their Mk2 Escort. Offering excellent variety to the Escort pack will be the Sunbeam Lotus of Adrian and Dan Seabridge and the Vauxhall Chevette of Roger Kilty/Lynette Banks.The contest for class D3, the 2-litre Pinto powered Escorts, is shaping up to be a cracker as well, with Will Onions/Tim Hobbs, Mark and Brett Clifford and Chris Shooter/Bev LeGood all being serious contenders for the class.Of course, the BHRC contingent is only a part of the historic element of the rally and a gaggle of local and Irish crews add further depth to the entry. Notable runners include John Kirkpatrick/Martyn Quine (Sunbeam Lotus), Derek and Roisin Boyd (Porsche 911) and a clutch of quick Mini Coopers including the car of Mervyn Johnston/Wendy Blackledge.The Isle of Man Historic Rally is organised by Manx International Rally Ltd. For more details about the event, please visit the website at: mir.co.im
The historic rally starts from Douglas on Thursday evening (17 July) and finishes on Saturday