Their Ford Focus WRC will lead the 90-strong field away from the start in Ramsey at 6.45pm on Friday 6th May, prior to the opening two stages through the town. Three more, bringing the competitive mileage up to 27 for the first leg of the event, must be completed before arrival at the TT Grandstand for the overnight halt.
Restarting at 9.00am on Saturday morning, another nine stages, totalling 81 miles, lie in wait for competitors, with the finish back at the Grandstand at 3.40pm that afternoon.
This time last year, Damian Cole also had a Focus WRC similar to Pritchard’s but the former multiple MSA Asphalt Rally Champion and co-driver Paul Morris will be hoping that its replacement, a Fiesta WRC, will carry them to a maiden victory on the event. Meanwhile, 2014 Championship runner-up John Stone has enlisted the services of defending Champion co-driver Jack Morton to guide him round the route in his Fiesta S2500. For their part, Simon Bowen/Richard Robinson will be anxious to erase the memory of last year’s Manx when gearbox failure put their Impreza S11 out after only six stages.
David Hardie/John McCulloch (Impreza) rejoin the Championship trail, hoping to improve on their 11th overall spot last year – indeed, just a handful of seconds less would have seen them claim a Top Ten finish. Behind them, Manxman Stu Bainborough (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO6) has registered for the series this year and contested the opening round on the Epynt Ranges to size up the opposition in preparation for his ‘home’ event. Now for the real test!…
After an absence of a couple of years, Ashley Field is back once again in his Darrian T90 GTR. Whilst, obviously, hoping for a good overall result, he is also likely to be leading the charge for Millington Rear-Wheel Drive Challenge points. This particular category seems very open this year, but Ashley’s main opposition will come from former Challenge winners, Richard Felgate/Mark Mason (BMW M3), the re-engineered Astra of Geoff Glover/Keith Barker and another Darrian in the hands of Chris Simmons.
Richard Clews returns to the event that promised so much last year – he was up to 8th overall in his virtually standard Impreza before gremlins set in and impeded his progress. He eventually finished 16th but, from previous experience and given a clear run, he knows that a Top Ten finish is there for the taking.
David & Mathew White have been the Group N Champions for the past couple of years in their Impreza – they won their class on the Manx in 2015 and, having retired from the Tour of Epynt, could do with a result to put their season back on track. They’ll need to keep an eye out for Wynne Watkins (Impreza), the category winner on Epynt, and Oliver Hopkins/Ian Taylor in their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9.
The 1400s look like being a battle between the Vauxhall Corsa of Richard Milbank/Lee Bezuidenhout and Ian & Mags Kelly’s Micra. Although not involved in the battle for Asphalt Championship points, George Morrison/Jon Quintrell (MG ZR) will also be present as they look to further their cause in the BTRDA Rally Challenge. Once again featuring a mixed-surface calendar of events taken from the MSA Asphalt Championship and the BTRDA Rally Series, the Challenge began on the Somerset Stages Rally a couple of weeks ago and Morrison/ Quintrell are the highest-placed crew present on the Isle of Man.
Amongst those attempting to usurp the MG crew’s position is Steven Clarke, the son of legendary Avenger driver Ivor, whose Mitsubishi Lancer EVO5 failed to finish in Somerset after a large hole appeared in the clutch housing!….