HAVING won the event for the past four years, Penrith driver Paul Bird heads an impressive entry list for Sunday’s annual Autogas 2000 Jack Frost Stages Rally, supported by Cartersport, which takes place at Croft Circuit.

Along with Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick, the British Superbike Championship and MotoGP team boss has been unbeaten at the Yorkshire track in recent years and returns in his ex-works Ford Focus WRC07 to try to add a fifth title on the Darlington and District Motor Club event.

But with some wintry weather hitting the region this week and with more forecast at the weekend, it’s not just the elements that Bird will have to contend with as there is the small matter of a trio of iconic MG Metro 6R4s, one of which is driven by former double Jack Frost winner and Christmas Stages runner-up Chris Wise with co-driver Tracey Taylor-West from Pickhill as well as similar cars of Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt and Simon Chapman/Michael Calvert. Peter Stephenson from Kepwick was looking good at the recent Christmas Stages before retiring, so is back to try again for better luck in his Subaru WRC.

All eyes will be on the intense two-wheel drive battle with Croft regulars and former podium finishers Paul Swift/David Cox (Ford Escort) from Darlington along with Bishop Auckland pairing Chris Anderson/Chris Thirling (Ford Fiesta) will be hoping to put their bad luck of three weeks ago behind them when both retired with engine problems on the Christmas Stages.

Joining them will be the unusual sight of National Championship front-runners John Stone/Lee Carter in a Peugeot 206 Cup Car as they have decided against driving their usual Skoda Fabia WRC. The Lancastrians will have to go some if they are to beat top 1600 entrants Barry and Michael Lindsay (Peugeot 106) but with the elements set to play a part, it’s anyone’s guess who comes out on top.

Scotsmen Gary and Gordon Adam complete an interesting top ten in their Ford Escort, although there is plenty of local interest through the field.

Guisborough’s Dave Hornbrook and Richmond co-driver Caroline Howell are off at number 11 in their Mitsubishi, with Stokesley brothers Ian and Stephen Woodhouse (Ford Escort) at 14 after their fifth place finish at Christmas.

Mickleton’s Alistair Hutchinson and Barnard Castle’s St John Dykes are seeded at 16 in their LPG-powered Renault Clio, three places ahead of Whashton brothers Paul and Chris Alsop in their Talbot Sunbeam. Brompton duo Darren Grimston and Stuart Carter wheel out the Evo 8 at number 20, just ahead of the Barnard Castle pairing of John and Jennifer Bainbridge in their Subaru.

Thirkleby’s Rob Herrington and Ripon co-driver Charlotte Banner are away at 24, two places ahead of a similar Ford Escort Mk2 of Romanby builder Andrew Smith and codriver Paul Rowland.

Eggleton’s Mark Thompson and Phil Kenny make a rare appearance in their two-litre Peugeot 206 at number 27, one place ahead of the 1600cc version of Northallerton’s Larry Carter and Linda Ashman.

John and Mark Gaskin, from Chop Gate, are again in action in the 1600cc Citroen Saxo at 31 with the fancied Bedale pairing of Joe Cunningham and Dan Kennedy starting at 38 in their Peugeot 106, just ahead of Hartlepool’s Stuart Leighton and Rachel Anne Heel in their Nissan Micra.

Northallerton crew Russ Radford and Graeme Bell swap seats after Bell’s superb top ten placing on the Christmas Stages and are seeded at 40 in their Ford Escort, while the Richmond son and father team of Luke and Terry Searle start at 45 in their Rover Metro.

Others to look out for include Darlington’s Craig Hesse (Subaru), Ian Horn from Great Ayton (Vauxhall Nova) and Ingleby Barwick rallycrosser Martin Peters (Citroen Saxo).

Also in action will be Martin Cockerill from Whitby (MG Maestro), Stockton’s Paul Dolan (Vauxhall Corsa), Ben Farrow form Bedale (Peugeot 205) and Thirsk’s Andrew Chandler (Ford Escort).

Entries have continued to come in during this past week and about 70 cars are expected to contest the event which will comprise eight stages totalling around 50 stage miles and comprising a qualifying round of the AS Performance North of England Tarmacadam Championship 2013, Fuchs Titan Race ANCC Stage Rally Championship 2013 and the SG Petch ANECCC Stage Rally Championship 2013.

The first car starts at 9.15am and Croft are making plans to ensure as many spectators’ cars as possible are parked on the limited hard standing within the venue.

Admission is £10 per adult with children aged 15 and under admitted free. Gates open at 8.30am to spectators.

Further information is available at croftcircuit.co.uk or at darlington-motor-club.org.uk