Border Counties Rally – some quick thoughts

It’s the Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally down in Jedburgh the weekend after next, and with entries closing on Monday I thought I’d post a few thoughts on the Civic and 205 Challenges that will be kicking off in the forests of Kielder on that weekend. For the last few seasons, the Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally has marked the opening round of Scotland’s premier one-make rally series, the Brick and Steel 205 Ecosse Challenge. Every year, dozens and dozens of shiny new Peugeots pass under the shadow of Jedburgh Abbey as they prepare to start their season in the forests of Kielder – and most of them make it back to the Abbey at the end of the day in one piece!

This year, though, you might notice that some of the 205s seem slightly different. They could look a bit bigger and rounder than the other Peugeots, and if you’re out spectating in the woods you may also notice they’re louder and faster. That’s because the Challenge is expanding this year to include a new upper class based on Honda Civic cars – and early signs are that the new class is going to be just as exciting and competitive as the 205 category it’s running alongside.

Although the Border Counties is the first round of the Brick and Steel Civic and 205 Challenges, quite a few crews have already been out competing in 2010 because the Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship started with last month’s Snowman Rally up in Inverness. Snowy and icy conditions made conditions difficult for the Civic and 205 runners that made the long trip north, but regardless of the results all of the Challenge crews came away itching to get back out in the woods.

Carluke service manager Graeme Schoneville is one of those that has made the step up from the Peugeot to the new Civic class for 2010, and the 23 year-old is looking forward to taking to the stages in his new vehicle. “The weather on the Snowman wasn’t ideal, but one thing we did find out was that the Civic Challenge car is a very capable machine,” explains Graeme, who will have experienced navigator Phil Coulby alongside him for this year. “I can’t wait to get the car out on gravel and see how we get on.”

Former 205 Challenge stars Euan Duncan/Peter MacInnes and Ross Hunter/Eildon Hall are just two of the crews getting ready to join Schoneville in the Hondas, with fellow junior Ruary MacLeod also registering for the new one-make category. Two-wheel drive frontrunner Grant Inglis is one of the most high profile recruits for the inaugural Civic Challenge, and Duncan Campbell and Billy Davidson will both be going all-out to stop the younger crews running away with it.

The Brick and Steel Civic Ecosse Challenge is sure to provide rally spectators with even more exciting front-wheel drive action, but that doesn’t mean the 205 series has been consigned to the sidelines. In fact, it looks like we could have one of the fiercest battles for Peugeot supremacy in quite a few years, as a whole host of competitors have shown they have the pace to run at the head of the Challenge field. 18 year-old Garry Pearson from Duns is making no secret of the fact he will be satisfied with nothing less than the 205 title in 2010, and has recruited up-and-coming Newton Stewart co-driver Kirstie Marshall to guide him through the stages. East Kilbride student Steven Smith and experienced co-driver Russell Fair drew first blood on the Snowman, however, edging Pearson out after a ding-dong battle over the Highland ice and snow.

Cumbrian crew Dave and Alison Crozier and Borderers Sarah Hunter/Gary White only made their 205 debuts on this event last March, but in the year since they have shown time and time again they have the pace necessary to win a 205 round. Autumn Cup winner Jamie Watson will definitely be one to watch, as will Keith’s Alex Pirie, who stunned the regular 205 drivers with some blistering stage times on the Snowman and could prove to be the surprise package of 2010. And don’t discount young Glaswegian racer David Brown, who is swapping the circuit for the forest and turning his hand to rallying this year under the guidance of Aberdeen co-driver Tom Hynd.

Once again, all Challenge crews will be using Hankook tyres as they make their way over the gravel and tarmac of Scotland and north-east England. The Hankook products have won the universal approval of the Challenge crews since they were introduced to the series at the start of last year, and the support of both tyre suppliers Hankook and Challenge title sponsors Brick and Steel Construction is greatly appreciated.

The tightly controlled specification of Brick and Steel Challenge cars guarantees a level playing field, with the resulting close competition meaning that it takes a very special driver and navigator to run away with the series. With nine rounds this year the Civic and 205 Challenges certainly won’t be won on the Border Counties, but we will get a very good indication of who the ones to watch will be in 2010.

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