The 2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship will be decided with a double-header at Rali Ceredigion next month - marking a home event for driver Steve Wood.
Wood, who won last year's championship, and co-driver Kenny Hull took their new Citroën C3 Rally2 to a stunning maximum points score on the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally last time out.
And Wood will be hoping to use his local knowledge to impress on the challenging Cambrian Mountains roads.
The Aber driver may not be in a position to retain the title, currently in eighth in the standings, but he and a slew of other drivers could still have an impact on the title by taking points away from the two front-runners.
Neil Roskell and Callum Black will be in a head-to-head fight for the title in what is the championship's 40th anniversary when Rali Ceredigion takes place on 2 and 3 September.
Roskell, who finished runner-up last year, leads the series after six high-scoring finishes in his Michelin-shod ND Civils/Burdens/Witham Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2. However, the Blackpool driver has a large total of 46 points to drop (unless he scores less on the final two rounds) – as the best six scores from eight rounds count.
Co-driven by Andrew Roughead, the very worst that can happen is that Roskell remains on his current 157 points – which will at least secure him second place again. Not that he’ll be happy to settle for that two years running.
Black is the only driver able to outrightly deny Roskell the title. The Brackley driver is fourth in the standings but has just one point to drop – meaning that he can add 59 points to his current total of 115 points (potentially taking him up to 174 points) – while Roskell can only add a total of 14 points (taking him up to a maximum of 171 points).
While Roskell has been the epitome of consistency this year with three second place points finishes, Black and co-driver Jack Morton are the only crew to have won more than one round so far this year – and will be out to maintain that record of success in their Pirelli-shod Pallas Connections Ford Fiesta Rally2.
And there are drivers who can’t win the title but will still be in the hunt for points. These include Wood and Kevin Davies, who will be aiming to put all his Welsh road rallying experience to good use again in his Melvyn Evans Motorsport-prepared Cobra Hydraulics-backed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. Co-driven by Owain Davies, the Carmarthen driver finished a very impressive sixth on his Protyre Asphalt debut at the beginning of the season.
James Ford/Neil Shanks scored maximum Protyre Asphalt points after a superb drive on the Jim Clark Rally and will be looking to repeat that success in their Michelin-shod Citroën C3 Rally2.
James’ father Chris Ford will also return to the series in an identical car, partnered by the 2021 Protyre Asphalt runner-up champion co-driver Neil Colman.
Hugh Brunton/Drew Sturrock certainly don’t lack commitment, as a visit to a hedge on the Jim Clark and a roll in Argyll proves. They’ll be aiming to finish their season on a high, and out of the undergrowth, in their rapid PM Print Škoda Fabia Rally2.
Likewise, Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh will be aiming for another good result in their Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2 and are more than capable of stealing points from the title rivals.
Mike English/Andy Robinson will be aiming to repeat the good run that they had on the Jim Clark in the Welsh lanes in their Proact-backed Fiesta Rally2.
There is also a titanic battle for the runners-up position spot. Will Hill currently holds that position, after a stunning season in his Hills Ford Fiesta Rally3. He and co-driver Richard Crozier have already secured the class B14 title and will be aiming to retain a top overall position in their 1.5 litre EcoBoost engine car.
There is a big battle for the class B14 runners-up. That position is currently held by Lee and Cole Hastings, despite crashing their John Gibson & Sons-backed Subaru Impreza out on the last round. They’ll be in a close class battle with Steven Ormond-Smith/Callum Young (ORMCO Accounts/Manx Rally Sport Mitsubishi Evo 9) and Richard Clews (Chevron Motorsport-prepared ITG Subaru Impreza STi).
Darren Atkinson has once again been the top 2WD finisher this year and goes into the final two rounds of the series a magnificent third overall. Co-driven on this occasion by Matt Daniels, he will be hopeful of finishing in the top three overall, although his focus will be securing the Escort Challenge and class B13 titles in his Haldane Fisher Escort Mk2.
Brad Cole/Jamie Vaughan will be aiming to stop Atkinson’s run on B13 maximum points in their Trick Motorsport-prepared Hydroline Solutions 2.5-litre Escort Mk2, after a good trouble-free run – as will Andy Scott/Ian Robertson in their P.A.C.E. Escort Mk2.
Will Rowlands/Emyr Hall need just five points to secure the Historic class H9 title after a great season in their Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2. Geoff Roberts (co-driven this time by Jack Bowen) can still pinch the trophy off Rowlands in his Motorcraft Escort RS1800 Mk2, while third placed Will Onions (co-driven by Dave Williams) and fourth placed Rob Smith (co-driven by Alun Cook) can’t win the title but will be trying to score maximum points in their similar RS1800s.
Rowlands also leads the BTRDA Historic Asphalt Cup, but he is only 10 points ahead of Graham Muter/Steve Hallmark, who have already clinched their third straight class H8 title in their Escort Mk2.
Malcolm Boyd/Brian Stubbs could finish second in class B11 if they have another good run in their Ford Escort Mk2. Others aiming to move up the class points table include Geoff Glover/Keith Barker (RWD Vauxhall Astra Mk3), Nick Heard/Oliver Mathison (Ginetta G40), Antony Allery/Ian Jackson (Ford Escort Mk2) and Jonathan Stepney/Aled Davies (Griffiths Group/Motorhome Services Scotland Renault Clio Sport 2.0 16v).
Two strong points finish would give Nicky Cowperthwaite/Helen Hall Cowperthwaite the class B9 title in their Cowperthwaites Garage/H&K Travel Opel Corsa.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to Rali Ceredigion, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.
Special Stage TV will be live streaming the action from the event on its Facebook page, with commentary from Mark James.
Based in Aberystwyth, this year's two-day 100 stage mile Rali Ceredigion starts on Saturday, 2 September with a loop of three stages in the morning, a lunchtime service halt, a repeat of the same three stages in the afternoon, service and two runs through a street stage in the evening (totalling 55 stage miles). Full Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship points will be awarded at the end of day one, as this counts for Round 7 of the series.
Day two (the eighth and final round of the 2023 Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship) takes place on Sunday, 3 September. It contains a loop of three stages in the morning, a lunchtime service halt and a repeat of the three stages in the afternoon (totalling 45 stage miles), before a late afternoon ceremonial finish on Aberystwyth promenade.