THE eagerly awaited Border Counties Rally will play host to the opening round of this years KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship this weekend as some of the quickest rally drivers in the country head to Jedburgh on Saturday.

Forced to take a sabbatical in 2018 due to severe weather across the North of the UK, the popular rally will welcome almost 80 crews to the region for 42 miles of competitive driving in the Kielder and South of Scotland forest stages.

Organised by Hawick and Border Car Club and Whickham and District Motor Club, the event has undergone a significant overhaul in 2019 which will feature new stages and format which will ensure both motorsport fans and competitors can enjoy a textbook day of rallying in some of the best forest stages in the country

After the pre-event formalities on Friday in Jedburgh, the rally will start under the town’s 12th Century Abbey at 8.30am on Saturday before crews head out to tackle six stages in the forests. In a change to previous years, the event will run the two-wheel-drive crews first on the road to allow them to take advantage of the best possible road conditions before the four-wheel-drive heavy hitters follow on behind.

After a full day in the forests, crews will begin to arrive in Abbey Place at around 4pm with the now traditional Jedburgh Royal British Legion Pipe Band signalling the finish celebrations in the street.

Winning the National B event in 2017 allows two-time Scottish Rally Champion Jock Armstrong to have the coveted number one on the door this year. Joined by Cammy Fair, the Castle Douglas man will be aiming to take the hat-trick of titles this year and open his account with a repeat of two years ago in his Subaru Impreza.

The competition lining up to ruin that plan is impressive however, with Duns man Euan Thorburn being the favourite to un-hinge Armstrong. Two event wins so far this season in his Ford Focus WRC05 make him match fit and he will be guided by Paul Beaton, the pairing starting at car two.

Another Duns man, Garry Pearson, will be aiming his Fiesta R5 towards the front of the leader board at car three. Almost winning the event in 2016, Pearson only lost out to Armstrong on a tie-break so is no stranger to what is required to be at the head of the field on Saturday night. Welshman Dale Bowen sits alongside.

The WD40 team of Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson bring their potent Ford Fiesta WRC across the border from Durham, aiming to upset the apple-cart and nudge out the SRC runners to take victory. Three podiums on the event previously mean he is overdue that elusive victory.

Rounding out the top five are Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer in their Fiesta R5. The Inverness based pairing make the trip south to the Borders and will be vying for the top spot in both the event and SRC standings.

A high-quality top ten contains 2015 podium spot crew Peter Taylor / Andrew Roughead in their Fiesta WRC, returning SRC challenger Mark McCulloch / Michael Hendry in their Fiesta R5. Recording his 13th start on the Border Counties Rally, Steve Bannister leads the two-wheel-drive contingent away but you`ll need to look down to 17th on the entry list to find him, such is the quality of the field.

Another notable entry comes from Alistair Brearley from Galashiels, co-driven by Paul Barbet in a Ford Escort MK2. Brearley won the event overall in 1973 & 1976 and was a popular sight on the stages of the Scottish Championship in a Vauxhall Chevette HSR and Metro 6R4.

Fans will have the opportunity to catch the action at two locations during the day. Near to Kielder Dam, SG Petch Pope’s Hill (Special Stage 2 and 4) takes place at 10 am and again at 12:47 pm. The Workwear Express Three Kings (Special Stage 3) takes place at 12:16 pm and can be accessed off the A68 near Byrness.