The Manx National Rally returns to the Protyre BTRDA Asphalt Rally Championship calendar for the first time since 2019 this weekend.
The series double-header round has attracted a capacity entry, with 132 crews set to tackle the two-day event.
Last year’s winners, Neil Roskell and Andrew Roughead from Blackpool and Newcastle respectively, return with an updated Ford Fiesta Rally 2.
They were also runners up on the Chris Kelly Memorial Rally last October and will undoubtedly set a strong pace.
Following them will be 2017 winners Hugh Hunter (Ruthin) and local co-driver Rob Fagg in a similar Fiesta.
The two crews finished one-two on the recent Tendring and Clacton Rally but are far from the only crews targeting victory this weekend.
Four-time former winner Melvyn Evans is firmly in that category.
The 2002, 2008, 2011 and 2012 victor runs a hugely successful rally preparation company these days and will drive one of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5s with twice-winning co-driver Aled Davies on the notes.
Blackburn’s John Stone and Welsh driver Kevin Davies also have VWs, with reigning Asphalt champion Steve Wood one to watch in a Fiesta WRC after his podium on the Chris Kelly event, among a high-quality top 10.
The leading local drivers will be at a disadvantage with no local events since last autumn. They are headed by Steve Colley, Steven Ormond-Smith and Maxx Bradshaw, all piloting Mitsubishi Evo IX’s.
Ormond-Smith was in the top three when he crashed out 12 months ago and contested the Clacton event last month as a warm-up.
Top two-wheel drive challengers include George Collister/Ian Postlethwaite (BMW E30 328i) and Rory McCann/Paul McCann (Honda Civic) who finished second and third overall 12 months ago.
The line-up is much stronger this time around. France-domiciled Gary Leece was close behind with a top-six finish last year and also returns with a Ford Escort MkII.
They will face a serious challenge from Armagh’s Damian Toner (Escort MkII) among others, who impressed as he swept to a podium finish on the 2021 PokerStars Rally in his Isle of Man debut.
The action gets underway tomorrow morning (Friday) with a shakedown on Marine Drive, Port Soderick and the Old Castletown Road, but by 11.20am attention turns to the event proper, with an earlier than usual start for a rapid-fire lunchtime loop of four stages.
Two runs over the familiar Pooil Vaaish stage, starting at Colby through to Ballanorris on the Southern 100 course, are followed by SS3 from Ballagyr outside Peel, Staarvey, Lynague, Devil’s Elbow and Ballaliegh to finish at Barregarrow.
SS4 brings crews back to the TT Grandstand event base by 1.40pm over Little London, Sartfield, Brandywell Cottage and Injebreck to finish alongside the reservoir.
There is then a break until the evening for the traditional night leg and five further tests from 6.15pm.
SS5 is an extended version of the shakedown running through to Blackboards, while SS6 and seven reprise the Pooil Vaaish route but finishing at the S100 startline.
The evening is concluded with re-runs of the Barregarrow (SS8) and Injebreck (SS9) stages, with the latter extended to include the Baldwins, Ballaoates and the Abbeylands jump to Cronk-ny-Mona.
Saturday takes in a final eight stages, two runs of a loop of four tests from 9.10am with the leading crews scheduled to complete the event shortly before 3pm.
With a lot of stage mileage (84 miles) and only one service halt it is set to be a real challenge for the crews regardless of the weather.
The opener is a 12-mile run from Newtown to St Mark’s, Eary, Archallagan, Braaid and Ellerslie to finish at Crosby (SS10 and 14).
From there crews head to Kirk Michael to tackle the Orrisdale loop, Broughjairg and Ballaugh Cronk, finishing at Ballacrye (SS11 and 15).
SS12 and 16 start at Jurby East, taking in West Craig, St Jude’s and Glascoe, finishing at the Dog Mills, before the longest stage of the event, 12.6 miles (SS13 and 17), covers Druidale and Brandywell Cottage before picking up the route used on the opening day to finish at Cronk-ny-Mona.
Manx National Rally
(first car due times)
Friday, May 12
MTC1 - TT Grandstand, 11.21am; Special Stage 1 - Pooil Vaaish 1 (3.48 miles) 11.46am; SS2 Pooil Vaaish 2 (3.48) 12.05pm; SS3 Barregarrow 1 (8.45) 12.41; SS4 Injebreck (6.09) 1.06pm; MTC2 - TT Grandstand, 1.37pm. MTC3 - TT Grandstand, 6.15pm; SS5 Keristal (5.05 miles) 6.44pm; SS6 Balladoole 1 (3.50) 7.12; SS7 Balladoole 2 (3.50) 7.33pm; SS8 Barregarrow 2 (8.45) 8.12pm; SS9 Little London (11.53) 8.37; MTC4 - TT Grandstand, 9.04pm.
Saturday, May 13
MTC5 - TT Grandstand, 9.11am; SS10 Newtown 1 (11.92 miles) 9.44am; SS11 The Curraghs 1 (8.89) 10.27am; SS12 Dog Mills 1 (8.48) 10.52am; SS13 The Baldwins 1 (12.61) 11.28am; Re-group and service - TT Grandstand, 11.47am; SS14 Newtown 2 (11.92 miles) 12.50pm; SS15 The Curraghs 2 (8.89) 1.33pm; SS16 Dog Mills 2 (8.48) 1.58; SS17 The Baldwins 2 (12.61) 2.34pm; MTC7 TT Grandstand, 2.53pm.