As the 2012 MSA British Rally Championship kicks off this weekend, many of the stars of the series have been looking ahead to the opening round, the Rallye Sunseeker International.
The Bournemouth-based event is the first round of the six event championship and for many drivers, it's their first opportunity to compete in a new car or work alongside a new co-driver, whilst for others it's a chance to follow on their strong performances from 2011, or wipe the slate clean and start a new season afresh.
Osian Pryce/Iestyn Williams – Citroen DS3 R3
18 year old Osian Pryce will be competing in the event in a brand new car, after acquiring a new Citroen DS3 R3. The Welshman, who is the reigning British Fiesta Sport Trophy Champion, has got some testing in over the last couple of weeks and is looking forward to the event.
Pryce said: “The tests were the first time that Iestyn and I sat in the car and were more for us to get a feel for the handling and launch control. I found the handling very positive and the car is so light compared to the older Fiesta R2 that I had last season.
“Undoubtedly there are a lot of quick boys out there, but I feel confident and Iestyn is a great help in keeping things calm in the car. Last year was my first full year in rallying at a senior level and to win the Fiesta Sport Trophy has given me something to build on this year. We'll be out there learning another level from last year and looking to put in some competitive performances.”
Alex Parpottas/Chris Davies – Ford Fiesta R2
Fellow eighteen year old Alex Parpottas is getting set to realise a dream as he embarks on his first International Rally campaign in the 2012 BRC. University student Parpottas competed in the BRC Challenge last year but is now making the step up to the BRC for the first time in a Ford Fiesta R2.
Parpottas said: “This year is going to be a huge challenge – there's no doubting that. The entry for the first round is top quality, with so many international drivers coming into the mix. The main aim for me this year is to finish and gain as much experience as we can – the car is still quite new to me but after a recent test session, I'm happy with how it feels so i'm really looking forward to getting to Bournemouth now”
Jarkko Nikara/Petri Nikara – Citroen DS3 R3
Finnish driver Jarkko Nikara is making a return to the British Rally Championship in 2012, competing in a Citroen DS3 R3 prepared by the reigning Teams Cup champions Autosport Technologys. Nikara won't get to test the car prior to the event's shakedown, but is confident of a strong return to British rallying.
Nikara said: “It's fantastic to be returning to the BRC with Autosport Technology and to be driving the Citroen DS3 R3T – I know this is a very good car and I'm sure we can be setting fastest stage times.”
Jussi KumpumÃ¤ki/Jani Salo – Ford Fiesta R2
Niko Nieminen/Pasi Haataja – Ford Fiesta R2
A brand new team is entering the British Rally Championship this year, with the Ford Junior Team Finland bringing a pair of Ford Fiesta R2's driven by Finnish drivers Jussi KumpumÃ¤ki and Niko Nieminen. 22 year old KumpumÃ¤ki is the 2010 Finnish Fiesta Trophy champion and has some BRC experience, whilst 19 year old Nieminen heads to the UK for the first time after competing in Finnish and Baltic rallies in recent years.
KumpumÃ¤ki said: “Last year was a big learning curve as I drove in many different events. I won on both gravel and tarmac. In BRC I was in 4th place in R2 class and 3rd in the Fiesta Trophy. I am now confident about this upcoming season and have set my sights high. I will be aiming for the victory in R2 class and the best possible overall results amongst the different two wheel drive cars. The experiences from the past season are a great help, apart from the opening rally, the rest of the events are familiar, so preparing for the new season is easier.”
Nieminen commented: “This is an important step in my early rally career. I have noticed that all these different races have improved me as a driver. I think the British series is possibly the best option for me at this stage. The series is extremely competitive, so I get to test my speed against the other young drivers. I will learn a lot during my first season. So I am not quite dreaming of the victories yet.”
Gethin Jones/Kevin Devine – Ford Fiesta ST
Making a return to the British Rally Championship after thirteen years away is Welshman Gethin Jones, who is making the comeback in an AVS Motorsport-prepared Ford Fiesta ST. The former KA champion and National F2 champion will be making the return with co-driver Kevin Devine, with the duo having enjoyed class success on Wales Rally GB back in 1999.
Jones said: “It's really exciting to be back in the championship after so long. I'm really looking forward to the challenge of measuring myself against the best young talent in the country and showing experience still counts. I haven't driven a rally car in anger for a few years as I have been competing on endurance mountain bike races, so it will be nice not to pedal for a change”