The opening round of the 2010 Dunlop/WONAGO.com MSA British Historic Rally Championship has attracted a superb 80-car field to the Bulldog Historic Rally (Saturday 27 March).
Never before have so many BDG-powered Ford Escorts packed out the entry, which will tackle over 50 miles of prime Welsh forest roads in six special stages. It promises to be a fabulous start to the 2010 season.
Category 1: Category one is for the oldest cars, from the pre '68 era, and it is the Sunbeam Tiger of Jonathan Gale – the 2009 Bulldog winner – that heads the field away. Gale and the Tiger should be the class of the category one field, although it seems that a back injury may keep his father Graham out of the co-driver's seat this time around. Leading the chase of the Tiger will be the Porsche 911 of defending champions Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride, but if all goes well with the Tiger, Nutt will be hard pressed to match the pace of the rumbling V8.
The battle for class B4 has six contenders, headed by the ever-spectacular Volvo Amazon of Graham Waite/Gill Cotton. The Lotus Cortina pack includes Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell and Gwilym Roberts/Lowri Davies, while another Amazon is in the hands of Dave Reynolds/Cliff Doe. Adding further variety is the MGB of Mike Howells/Malc Hamer, while Nick Pinkett/Jonathan Lodge lead class B3 in their V4-powered Saab 96. In B1, the battle is between the Imps of Geoff Taylor/Steve Greenhill and BHRC newcomers Simon Whitehead/Gary Wood.
Category 2: In category two, for the post-historic cars, the outright pace is likely to be a battle between old adversaries Jeremy Easson/Alun Cook and David Stokes/Guy Weaver in their Escort Mk1s. These two hugely experienced crews head a strong category two field while the Porsche 911 of Tim Mason/Graham Wild will be pushing hard. More quick Escort Mk1s will be chasing Easson and Stokes in class C5, including those of Chris Browne/Liz Jordan and Craig Salter/Preston Ayres, while lining up against Mason in class C4 will be the Porsche 911 of Peter Smith/Russ Langthorne.
Class C3, for the Pinto-powered Escorts is again shaping up to be a fine contest, headed by Tim Jones/Don James. They face plenty of rivals including 2009 C3 champions Drew Wylie/Howard Pridmore and Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson, while James Slaughter/Phil Peak are getting closer and closer to the class pace.
An excellent field in C2 brings out a gaggle of Escorts to take on the Hillman Avengers of Gary and Jane Edgington and Irish crew Stephen Whitford/Simon Morrow. Top of the Escort pack will be Vince Bristow/Tim Sayer, and they will surely set the standard as more quick Escorts arrive in the hands of Neil Rudd/Brian Hodgson, Richard Williams/Richard Ekin and Nick Danks/Martin Corbett.
Category 3: Never before have so many BDG-powered Escort Mk2s packed out the entry for a BHRC round, and four crews stand out as the potential absolute pacesetters. 2009 Bulldog winners Nick Elliott/Dave Price head the field away, closely followed by Julian Reynolds/Ian Oakey, Richard Hill/Patrick Cooper and Irish crew Ryan Barrett/Kevin Bowcott. Elliott and Reynolds may well set a scorching pace from the start.
The quality of entry in class D5 is incredible, with at least another dozen very quick crews in the top class. Darren Moon/Chris Parsons, Will Onions/Dave Williams, Simon Tysoe/Cliff Simmons and Terry Brown/Kevin Jones are just some of the other leading class D5 runners. Although at the tail of the entry list, the Escort Mk2 of Seamus O'Connell/Nigel Gardner will start much nearer the front and is another major contender in a field of remarkable quality.
In class D4 are the over 2-litre non-Escorts, and that means the Opel Asconas and Vauxhall Chevettes. Quickest of the pack could be the Chevette of Rob Smith/Shaun O'Gorman, which may well be the car to take the fight to the Escorts. Opel-mounted are Phil Collins and Derek Brannigan, and their pace on a rare BHRC outing will be watched with interest.
The standard of competition continues in class D3, where the top seeds are Stuart Clarke/Andy Ballantyne and Richard Lane/Frank Richer. Leading the chase of Clarke and Lane will be Adrian Young/Gwynfor Jones and David Lloyd-Roberts/Dei Jones.
The Bulldog Historic Rally is organised by Wolverhampton and South Staffs Car Club and starts at 8.30am on Saturday 27 March from Welshpool. For more details about the event, please visit the website at: www.bulldog-rally.co.uk