Scotsman David Bogie got his 2011 Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship off to the perfect start with victory on the opening round of the series, the Rallye Sunseeker International. His previous experience in the Dorset forests, winning the Group N section in 2008, proved key as he won five stages on his way to his first ever BRC victory.
Reigning Scottish Rally champion Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae came into the rally with confidence high, having got his defence of that title off to the best possible start with victory on the Snowman Rally last week, and it certainly showed.
He was the quickest out the blocks to win SS1 by 2.3 seconds from Tom Cave, co-driven by Craig Parry. It was Cave who became Bogie's closest challenger over the course of the rally and briefly took the lead on his first ever BRC round after winning SS2, though Bogie won SS3 to take the lead again. By the time they headed to the first service of the day four stages in, Bogie led Cave by only 2.9 seconds.
Cave won his second stage of the day on SS5 to narrow the gap to Bogie to just one second, but Bogie immediately hit back winning the next two stages before service and despite Cave winning SS8 straight after, Bogie still held an eleven second advantage.
Realising he couldn't catch Bogie without taking unnecessary risks, Cave decided to consolidate his second place over the final three stages, allowing Bogie to cruise to victory, winning the final stage on his way to becoming the first Scot to win a BRC round since Alistair McRae in 1997.
Behind the front two, a great three way battle emerged for third place between Subaru Impreza crews Eflyn Evans/Andrew Edwards, Adam Gould//Seb Marshall and Jason Pritchard/Robbie Durant. It was Pritchard who held the early advantage out the three, but Gould won SS4 to move into third as they reached first service, but his margin over Pritchard was only a narrow 0.3 seconds, with Evans only 1.4 seconds further back.
It was Pritchard who was first to buckle under the pressure, sliding wide and getting stuck in a ditch on SS6. Unable to get out, he was forced into retirement, leaving just a two way battle for the final podium place.
Evans moved into third after SS6 and looked to pull away, however Gould had other ideas, winning SS9 to narrow the gap to just 4.5 seconds with two stages remaining. However Evans proved he had got his head around his new TEG Sport Impreza and won SS10 to finish third.
Pritchard’s demise allowed JRM crew Daniel Barry and Rory Kennedy to claim the final spot in the top five in their JRM Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Despite being one of the few BRC drivers to have previous experience of the Sunseeker stages, having finished fourth overall in 2009, Barry was unable to challenge for the win as he adapted to his new machine.
Narrowly missing out on the top five were Skoda Fabia S2000 pair Jonny Greer/Dai Roberts and Robert Barrable/Damien Connolly both of whom were competing on their first rally's in their new cars. Greer's progress was hampered by a puncture in SS7, while Barrable was facing a steep learning curve on his first rally in a 4WD machine.
In the 2WD section of the rally it became a battle of the Renault Twingo's as Autosport Technology pair Siim Plangi and Mikko Pajunen locked horns for the R2 class win. As the BRC looks set to move to 2WD only in 2012, there was a lot of focus on the class during the Sunseeker and they didn't disappoint with a closely contested rally.
It was Estonian Plangi, co-driven by compatriot Marek Sarapuu, who came out on top over finish team-mate Pajunen, co-driven by fellow Fin Jani Salo. Pajunen had led after the first couple of the stages, but a late check in to two time controls cost him a combined thirty seconds of penalties, gifting Plangi a lead he never lost. Plangi's performance earned him a nomination for the Pirelli Star Drive, while the one two for the Twingo's gave Autosport Technology maximum points in the Teams Championship.
The favourite for the R2 win before the rally was top seed Craig Breen, who had Gareth Roberts sat alongside him and had competed in the rally in the past. The Irishman showed his pace early on, briefly holding the class lead after SS3, but a split water pipe forced him to stop in SS4. He was left to refill his water from a puddle using drinking bottles in his car, losing him over two minutes and ending his chances of winning.
A replacement water pump in service allowed him to push on over the rest of the day and he worked his way up to finish fourteenth overall and third in class. In the team's championship, Breen's woes were added to when team-mate John MacCrone retired with electronics problems on SS1, leaving M-Sport Ford Rally Team third in the standings.
The third 2WD runner to finish was reigning BRC Challenge champions Callum Black and Paul Wakely in their Suzuki Swift S1600. Black struggled throughout the rally, with a wrong tyre choice leading him to aquaplane in the tricky conditions. This left him unable to fight for the 2WD win, but as the only R3 runner in the entry, he did go home with a class win.
Alongside Pritchard and MacCrone, the leading retirements in the International Rally were Citroen C2 drivers Desi Henry and Mark Donnelly. Henry had a good start to rally but a spin on SS6 was followed by sheared wheel studs forcing him to retire on the final stage, while Donnelly's driveshaft broke at the start of the first stage. Late entry to the rally Euan Thorburn also retired early on, while Alan Cookson broke two driveshaft's before deciding to retire before causing anymore damage to his Impreza.