With 2016 champion Elfyn Evans moving back up into the FIA World Rally Championship, a different name will be on the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship trophy this season and the first event on the 2017 calendar is the Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally.
Based in Jedburgh, the Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally is new to the BRC calendar for 2017 and is set to host the opening round after the cancellation of the Mid-Wales Stages earlier this year.
60 stage miles are set to test the crews across two days of action including a pair of night stages in Craik Forest on the Friday evening before a full day of action on Saturday.
After beginning in Scotland, the championship then heads for Cumbria and the Pirelli International Rally based in Carlisle, followed by a return North for the RSAC Scottish Rally.
Next up for the crews is a trip to Belgium for the first time in the BRC’s history for the Kenotek Ypres Rally and then a return to Britain with the Nicky Grist Stages and the Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally before the season concludes in September with the Rally Isle of Man.
Despite Evans’ departure from the series, the entry in the BRC1 class in 2017 looks just as competitive, with all last year’s high fliers, including runner up Tom Cave and names such as Jonathan Greer, Fredrik Ahlin and Josh Moffett all coming back for another shot at overall glory.
Cave returns aboard a Ford Fiesta although has interestingly announced that he will make a one-round swap to a Hyundai i20 R5 for the Pirelli International in April, while third in 2016 Greer will continue in his Citroen DS3 R5.
The big addition over the winter is triple BRC champion Keith Cronin returning to the championship in a full-season campaign with M-Sport in a ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta R5 where he will be partnered by the experienced Alex Laffey in a sister Fiesta.
Other noticeable entries in the BRC1 class include 2011 champion David Bogie again driving a Skoda Fabia R5 hoping to put a troubled 2016 behind him, Martin McCormack and Desi Henry also both in Fabia’s and Rhys Yeates, Matt Edwards and Jamie Anderson all returning to the championship in Ford Fiestas.
Meanwhile the BRCJ class, open to any driver under 26-years-old and with an R2 specification car this season has the added incentive of a £30,000 cash prize on offer to the winner of the championship. The opening round features nine cars on the entry list with Marty Gallagher, Dean Raftery, Cameron Davies, William Creighton and the returning Meirion Evans all also set to battle it out for a €10,000 voucher prize pot provided by Peugeot Sport UK and Ireland with their Peugeot 208 R2s. Evans who finished seventh in 2016 will be hoping his championship experience pays dividends in 2017 and takes him to the top of the standings.
Completing the BRCJ competitors are Callum Devine and Oscar Solberg (son of Henning and nephew of Petter) both in Ford Fiesta R2Ts, Australian Arron Windus in a Vauxhall Adam R2 and Josh McErlean in a Citroen C2 R2 Max.
Brand new for 2017 is the BRC Cadet class and is aimed at drivers under the age of 25 with the winner of the championship receiving free entry into the BRC in 2018. Six drivers are confirmed for the opening round all driving Ford Fiesta R2’s; Fergus Barlow, Josh Cornwell, Alex Waterman, Tom Williams, Nabila Tejpar and James McDiarmid who drives the slightly different Fiesta R2T National.
The entry list for the opening round is rounded out by Gee Atherton and David White battling it out in the BRC4 class, designed for R2 cars driven by drivers over the age of 26 and a sole BRC2 entrant with Spencer Wilkinson driving a Subaru Impreza.
Despite the first round of the championship not beginning until March 17/18, many of the BRC’s main competitors, including Cronin, Bogie, Ahlin and Thorburn featured in the Malcolm Wilson Rally on March 11 where Bogie came out on top ahead of Cronin and Ahlin in third. Could this be an indication as to how things are going to play out in Scotland?