The 2011 Rallye Sunseeker International marks a new era for the event, as it becomes the opening round of the Dulux Trade MSA British Rally Championship. The rally holds a distinguished history, becoming the biggest rally staged in the South of England and growing into one of the most popular rallies in the country for both drivers and spectators.
The rally can be traced back to origins in 1973 and the Kleber Southern Rally, a road rally first run in Surrey and Sussex. The first winners were Derek Skinner and Peter Rushforth in a MGB, with the pairing going on to win it again in 1975. The rally saw a new sponsor come on board in 1977, with it now named the Happy Eater Southern Rally. Sir Peter Graham/Dave O'Brien picked up the win that year in their Porsche 911, before three consecutive wins for Ford Escorts.
1984 saw another name change, with the event becoming the Citroen Winter Rally, with David Kynaston/Keith Oswin in their Audi Quattro 985 and David Llewellin/Rob Arthur in their Nissan 240RS amongst the winners during the mid-eighties. It wasn't until 1986 until the event moved to its current home of Bournemouth, with Colin Short/Gary Champion winning in their Ford Escort RS, before current Ford World Rally Team boss Malcolm Wilson and co-driver Nigel Harris took victory in 1987 in their MG Metro 6R4.
As the nineties approached, Mazda took over sponsorship of the event, with it renamed The Mazda Winter Rally. Throughout the following decade, the event took on various guises, being called the The Mazda Car-Line Winter Rally, The Winter Rally, The Sunseeker Powerboats Winter Rally and The Bournemouth Winter Rally.
Winners during the decade included Trevor Smith and Roger Jones, who added to their 1989 win with victories in 1991 and 1992 in their Ford Sierra Cosworth. David Gillanders/John Bennie picked up two wins in their Ford Escort Cosworth in 1994 and 1995, while Raymond Munro and Graham Brunton took the Metro 6R4's second and last victory on the event in 1997. Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield took victory in 1998 in their Subaru Impreza.
It was the following year, 1999, when the event took its current title, Rallye Sunseeker. Marcus Dodd went on to win the event for the first time, beginning his love affair with the rally. Co-driven by John Bennie, he beat Brian Lyall/Alun Cook and Kenny McKinstry/Noel Orr in their Subaru Impreza's with his Ford Escort WRC to take victory, the first WRC car to win the event.
He repeated the trick in 2000, in his new Subaru Impreza WRC, before beating Kenny McKinstry/Noel Orr and David Mann/Alun Cook in 2001 to make it a hattrick of wins, with co-driver John Bennie sealing his fifth rally win. 2002 saw Dodd finally defeated, with Irish star Kenny McKinstry finally taking victory after finishing third in 1999 and runner up in the two previous years. Dodd got back on the winner's podium in 2003 alongside new co-driver Stephen McAuley, beating Andy Burton/John Roberts in their iconic Peugeot Cosworth.
2004 saw a change to the events schedule, with the rally's traditional stages through Bournemouth's Lower Gardens and Pier Approach moved from Saturday to Friday night, making them a floodlit spectacular for fans and turning the rally into a two day event. Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield benefited from it most to take their second event win, beating Hyundai Accent WRC pair Craig Middleton/Robin Hernaman and Steve Petch/John Richardson.
This began a successful period in the rally for the Hyundai Accent WRC. 2005 saw it win in the hands of David Higgins and Daniel Barritt, with Dodd runner up in his, before Craig Middleton/Robin Hernaman took victory a year later in theirs.
After three years without a win, Dodd returned to the winners ramp in 2007, with Andrew Bargery alongside him, before winning again in 2008, making it four wins on the trot for a Hyundai Accent WRC. Burton, now with Shelley Rogerson alongside him, finished runner up again, with Stephen Moore/Tony McHugh third in their Ford Focus WRC. 2008 also saw the first running of the Military rally, with the Armed Forces Rally Team competing in Land Rovers. There were also a variety of demonstrations and displays to mark the 21st anniversary of Malcolm Wilson winning in a MG Metro 6R4.
2009 saw a new winner of the event, with Will Nicholls and Nick Broom taking the win in their Subaru Impreza WRC after frontrunners Dodd, Steve Perez and Paul Bird all succumbed to retirement. Roger Duckworth/Mark Broomfield finished second in their ageing Impreza, with Sean Devine/Mark Regan making it an Impreza lockout of the podium, finishing an unexpected third.
Last year's rally saw Marcus Dodd and Andrew Bargery return to the winner's rostrum once again, dominating the rally to take their seventh win on the event. Behind them, a titanic battle for second place ensued between Andy Burton/Robin Kellard and Steve Perez/Paul Spooner. Burton in his Peugeot Cosworth held the place until SS6, before Perez in his Ford Focus WRC 07 got the upper hand. The battle had one final dramatic twist when Burton won the final stage of the rally to snatch the place back and finish runner up on the event once again. Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield followed Perez home for fourth, ahead of Paul Bird/Kirsty Riddick in their Ford Focus WRC 08, with Jonny Milner/Ian Windress completing the top six in their Toyota Corolla WRC, a solid start to a season that saw them win the 2010 MSA Gravel Rally Championship.