Tricky reinstated forest stage in cracking condition ahead of Border Counties event

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ORGANISERS of this weekend’s Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally reckon the opening forest stage – last used in the 1980s – will be a great leveller for the 80-plus crews entered for the event, the second round of the 2012 MSA Scottish Rally Championship, writes Sandy Brydon.

The nine-mile stage at Craik Forest, west of Hawick, has been brought into play to mark the 40th anniversary of the first running of the Border Counties in 1972.

“It’s so long since it was last used that none of the crews will have any knowledge of it.” said clerk of the course Paul Hughes. “It’s in fantastic condition, and I’m confident the drivers will absolutely love it.”

Crews will then head to a service area located at a town centre car park in Hawick, another throwback to Border Counties of the past.

The remaining four stages will take competitors to the more familiar – but no less challenging – Wauchope and Kielder Forests.

Current Scottish and British champions David Bogie and his Hawick co-driver Kevin Rae will again be the crew to beat as they target a second successive victory in the Jedburgh-based event.

They dominated last month’s season-opener in the forests around Inverness, despite several big moments in the treacherous blizzard conditions.

Bogie’s Mitsubishi Evo 9 will be followed off the start-line by Snowman runner-up Mike Faulkner – provided he can repair his Evo 6 in time after crashing out on last weekend’s Malcolm Wilson Rally.

Euan Thorburn from Duns had a frustrating start to his championship campaign in a newly-acquired Ford Focus WRC ’01, gearbox and clutch problems spoiling his Highland outing.

However, a strong third-place finish on the Malcolm Wilson, alongside co-driver Paul Beaton from Inverness, should have boosted his confidence for this coming weekend.

Although not eligible for championship points, former BRC front-runner Jonny Greer from Northern Ireland will be eyeing overall honours as he returns to the Scottish forests at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Evo 9. He will be co-driven by Dai Roberts.

Fifth seed Barry Groundwater – who has had four top-10 finishes on the Border Counties since 2008 – got his SRC season off to a positive start with a sixth place on the Snowman in his Evo 9. He will be partnered this time out by Neil Shanks from Elgin.

Rising star and BRC challenger Peter Taylor, with Andrew Roughead on the notes, will also be one to watch after securing an exceptional third-place finish in Inverness in a Ford Focus WRC ’02 – his first time out in the car.

Dumfries farmer Rory Young will be hopeful of another top-five spot after steering his Group N Evo 4 to a fine fourth overall in Inverness, alongside Carlisle navigator Allan Cathers.

And County Durham’s Stephen Petch will be back in action, with navigator Michael Wilkinson, in his distinctive Hyundai Accent WRC.

Border Counties sponsor John McClory, co-driven by David Hood, starts ninth in his Subaru Impreza N10. The pair were on the pace on the Snowman – finishing fifth overall – their best result in the Scottish championship.

Stephen and Kevin Lockhart, in an Evo 7, will be looking for a repeat of their top ten finish of 12 months ago, the Oban crew starting one ahead of Banchory’s Quintin Milne, co-driven by Martin Forrest from Aberdeen, who marked his 4WD debut with an impressive performance on the Snowman.

The top 12 is rounded off by Chris Collie and Lisa Watson who return to the fray in a Mitsubishi Evo 6.

Top seed in the 2WD classes, which will run at the front of the field, is Steve Bannister, co-driven by Hawick’s Louise Sutherland, in his historic-spec Ford Escort Mk2. Seventh overall on the Border Counties two years ago, the duo come fresh from a class-winning drive on the Malcolm Wilson last weekend.

The 1600 challenge is headed by John Boyd and Chris Williamson in a Ford Fiesta, hotly pursued by the Honda Civic of Graeme Schoneville and Michael Hendry. The Carluke driver got his 2012 campaign off to a flying start with a class win and 19th overall – his best result to date on the Snowman.

Borders crews to look out for include: Michael Horne (Duns) and Robbie Mitchell (Duns), Ford Escort Mk 2; Richard Stewart and Carin Logan (Kelso), Subaru Impreza; Ross McFadzean and Jane Nicol (Duns), Subaru Impreza; Sean and Iain Robson (both St Boswells), Ford Fiesta ST; Des Campbell (Coldstream) and Alex Orr (Hutton), Peugeot 206; Keiran Renton (Leitholm) and Paul McGuire (Tranent), Ford Fiesta; James Thomson (St Boswells) and Alison Woodcock (Coldstream), Peugeot 206; Adrian Stewart and Richard Simmons (Chirnside), Peugeot 205; Callum Atkinson (Lauder) and Kevin Mathers, Peugeot 205.

The first 2WD car will leave Abbey Place in Jedburgh at 8.31am on Saturday, with the first 4WD car at 9.36am. The leading cars are due to return at approximately 2.45pm and 3.50pm respectively.

Further details and a full entry list can be found at www.bordercountiesrally.co.uk