The normally tranquil Border country lanes around Duns and Kelso will become the playground of many of the world’s fastest tarmac drivers this weekend when Scotland hosts its round of the British Rally Championship (BRC), the three-day Jim Clark International.
Such is the allure of the event, the only rally run solely on closed-off public tarmac roads to be staged on the British mainland, that a record 298 entries have been accepted.
In addition to the BRC entries, the Jim Clark is also a counter in five other series, including the Irish Tarmac and Hankook Scottish Rally championships.
“We’ve attracted the strongest, and certainly biggest field we’ve ever had,” event manager Colin Pagan said today. “It’s the biggest single rally event to be held in the UK and it’’s terrific to see so many crews taking part.”
While the Irish tarmac specialists such as Eamonn Boland, Gareth MacHale and Eugene Donnelly will start as favourites to win on a surface which is alien to most of the mainland rally drivers who prefer gravel, the battle for BRC honours promises to be intense.
Former champ and Jim Clark winner Mark Higgins is keen to step up his challenge in his Subaru after two second places in the opening rounds, but the Manxman knows he must overcome the man-in-form, Irish youngster Keith Cronin.
The Bantry boy dazzled the opposition winning both opening rounds in Wales and Kielder forest, and though he has tarmac experience this will be his first taste of the ultra-fast Berwickshire lanes in his Mitsubishi Evo IX.
For the tens of thousands of spectators who will watch the event, which gets underway tomorrow evening (Fri) with a ceremonial start in Edinburgh before the crews tackle six overnight stages in the Borders, the focus of attention will be on Scottish youngster David Bogie. And it promises to be a hectic weekend for the 21-year-old from Dumfries, currently third in the BRC.
Not only is he determined to notch another podium finish in the British championship, which finishes on Saturday evening in Kelso, but he’s eyeing a win in the round of the Scottish which is self-contained on Sunday
“Aye it’s going to be very busy,” admitted Bogie, who comfortably led the Scottish round of the Jim Clark last year before his car’s gearbox blew up. “And I’ve got two cars to prepare, the Evo X for the British and the Evo IX for the Scottish.
“Certainly I’m after at least two podiums this weekend. To finish third last time out in the British was fantastic and I’d like to go one step better here in my home rally.
“As for the Scottish round on Sunday, well ideally I’d like to win. But I know it’s going to be a long, tough weekend.”
After Friday evening’s six stages, the competitors in the BRC tackle another 11 timed tests — including famous names such as Eccles, Edrom and Leitholm — on Saturday, starting at 7am, before the podium ceremony at Kelso racecourse.
Those contesting the Scottish round of the Jim Clark then set out at 10.15am on Sunday for eight stages totalling 62 miles before their podium celebrations in Duns Square later in the afternoon.