Alister McRae looking forward to driving new car

Wales Rally GB preview

LANARK rally star Alister McRae is ready to make his return to this weekend's Wales Rally GB in a new car.

The Lanark driver has just completed a successful two-day test of the Toyota Super 2000R and is looking forward to competing in the last event of 2006 FIA World Rally Championship season.

It will be only the second time a car built to the Super 2000 specification has competed in a WRC event and the first for the Toyota. The car has already proved extremely successful in the South African Rally Championship and McRae has recently been appointed development driver by RED, the UK rally team which has become worldwide agent for the car.

McRae was impressed with his trial of the Toyota S2000 when it arrived from South Africa. ''The car was very well put together when it arrived and the purpose of the test was to adapt the settings to suit the conditions here this weekend,'' he said. ''In South Africa, the rallies are driven blind, so the base set-up was more biased towards rear wheel-drive. Overall, it's been a very good test - we know that there is still some work to do but I feel we now have a very good base set-up for European gravel rallies and WRC events.''

McRae added: ''I am really looking forward to this rally and competing on home soil again. The main objective for the weekend is to get as many miles as possible on the car and get some good feedback. The car certainly feels as quick, if not quicker, than Group N but until we get on the stages, we won't know for sure.''

Despite not having competed in the WRC for almost two years, McRae is confident that he will be back on his usual pace quickly. ''I've done a few events this year but not that many in the second half of the season. So it may take a stage or two to get my eye in fully but I think that once we've got a few kilometres under our belt, we'll be able to push hard as usual. The only real unknown is how the car behaves on the very high speed sections: the test was on tighter and twisty roads, where it worked very well but I'm sure the same will be the case on the faster parts.

''This is my first time in Super 2000 in competition as well as the car's first rally outside South Africa, so if we can be matching the pace at the head of Group N or even stretching it a little, I'll be very pleased.''

Alister will be supported in his Wales Rally GB entry by GHI Contracts, a leading fit-out and refurbishment principal contractor, in both the corporate and public sectors.

He will also be supported by long-time partner John Lloyd, of Lloyd Helicopters, a name familiar to many rally fans as a competitor and supporter of British Rallying.

The weather will play a large part in this year's event, with winter conditions like rain, fog and ice all possible. The stages are either on forestry roads or the military ranges. The first day, Friday, December 1 sees the crews tackle six stages in the Vale of Neath. The second leg, Saturday, December 2 takes them to the Epynt military ranges while the third day, Sunday, December 3 is based on the Brechfa forest to the west of Swansea. There is also a super special spectator stage in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday evening, which will run under the famous closed roof.