The opening round of the 2010 MSA Gravel Rally Championship takes place this weekend on the south coast, as the Rallye Sunseeker kicks off the season.
This year sees the 25th running of the rally, and will see crews from the UK and further afar landing in Bournemouth and Poole to tackle the event, while fans will be absorbing the atmosphere in the Dorset Forests.
Marcus Dodd and his co-driver Andrew Bargery, the 6 time winners of the event will be looking to reclaim the crown they lost to Will Nicholls and Nick Broom last year, and the Hyundai Accent WRC drivers will be considered favourites, as Nicholls and Broom aren't returning to defend their title.
Dodd is also the current Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Champion, having landed the title five times and the last three titles. However, Dodd will be facing a tough challenge to win the crown again, as four previous Champions are returning to the series.
Roger Duckworth and his co-driver Mark Broomfield took the overall Championship honours in 1998, and are back for another tint at the title in his venerable Subaru, while the Ford Focus that Marcus Gronholm used in the WRC appears in the Rallye Sunseeker in the hands of Steve Perez from Chesterfield alongside co-driver Paul Spooner. Perez is fresh having won Wyedean Rally.
Flamboyant Chicken Farmer Paul Bird, the 2005 Champion is also another series returnee in his works specification Ford Focus WRC08 and has won his last 3 events alongside co-driver Kirsty Riddick. Riddick, however, has never experienced Sunseeker glory. The other winner of the National Title is Ulsterman Kenny McKinstry, who won the title in 1999 and took the Rallye Sunseeker win in 2002. McKinstry has Harvey bell on the notes when they race their Subaru on the rally.
The rivalry between Perez and Bird is part of Rallye Sunseeker history, and both will be keeping their eyes in their rear view mirror, as well as Dodd, Duckworth and McKinstry, as there will be a number of other drivers looking to challenge for overall honours.
Jonny Milner, the double British Champion is reunited with his Toyota Corolla, and with co-driver Ian Windress could be the dark horse for the win, while Irish racers Richard Cathcart and Martin Brady, in their Subaru WRC could spring a surprise, the same can be applied to the Mitsubishi Evo 9 of Jonny Greer.
Stephen Petch, the driver from County Durham has teamed up with John Richardson for their assault on the rally in their Hyundai Accent WRC, while you can't rule out the local aces, the Mitsubishi Evo 6 of Anthony Willmington and Andrew White, while Scotsmen Dave Weston Jnr and Ieuan Thomas enter their latest spec Subaru. Scandinavian drivers Daniel Sigurdarson and Johannes Gunnarson have added to the International flavour of the event by entering in their Mitsubishis, in preparation for the upcoming Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge.
Other drivers looking to make a splash on the event is local car seller Steve Hendy in his Ford Focus WRC, the Subaru of BTRDA front runner of Alex Allingham, as well as the Subaru's of Tristan Pye and Wug Utting.
The crowd favourite, Stuart Larbey, will be competing in his MG Metro 6R4.
Around 70 crews will be competing for the glory, and after some restructuring of the Championship during the winter, strength is depth is the outcome.
The championships that the drivers will be challenging for are: Viking Motorsport Ford Escort Challenge, 1400cc Cup, Super 2000 Cup and Land & Range Rover Cup, Richard Burns Trophy and Manufacturer’s award. This should make a great spectacle to entertain the huge crowds expected on the South coast.
The scene is set for a frantic and exciting start to the national rally scene, and with a mixture of men and ladies racing, as well as 72 years young Harry Dodd in his Hyundai Accent WRC, as well as the rapid young ladies of Shelley Taunt and Sara Williams, both in Subaru's.
There is also a classic rally car entered – Rod Bennett in his Lancia Delta Intergrale Evo, one of the fans favourites.
This year sees the traditional Friday Evening Seafront and Winter Gardens stages not included, the rally has a pompous ceremonial start at Poole Quayside at 18.15 on Friday night, before the action starts on the traditional loops around the forests and stately homes of Ringwood and Wareham before the winner's champagne is uncorked in Bournemouth Town Centre at 17.30 Saturday.