Defending champion Paul Bird returns to the Legend Fires North West Stages Rally this weekend determined to hang onto the number one plate he claimed in emphatic fashion last year.
A year ago, the Langwathby driver took the lead after the opening stage on Friday night and was never headed over the next 25 stages and he'll be looking for another perfect performance in the Fuchs Titan, Rapid Solicitors and Mac Tools-backed Ford Focus WRC07.
But the Cumbrian boss of his own MotoGP and British Superbike teams knows it won't be an easy task with the usual array including some of Britain's best drivers entered on the two-day Blackpool-based event but along with Welsh co-driver Aled Davies, he's confident of success.
The pair are planning a test on Friday in the Dom Buckley IRS-prepared car and following an intense training regime in recent weeks, the 2005 National Champion is as well prepared as he can be as he kicks off his 2014 season.
However, after finishing runner-up in the 2013 MSA Asphalt Rally Championship, Paul is turning his attention back to the gravel and aims to contest the 2014 BTRDA Rally Series which kicks off with the Wyedean Rally the week after followed by his annual outing on home turf in the Malcolm Wilson Rally.
But for now the focus is this weekend's tarmac action and to see off the considerable opposition to win the event for a second successive year over 75 stage miles at various locations in and around the Lancashire resort.
Paul Bird: "I dedicated my win last year to my daughter Lexi and I know she'd like me to do it again so that's the plan. I'm back in training again and looking forward to testing the car as I've hardly driven it over winter and you can't give any of these drivers the slightest advantage so you've got to be on it from the word go. Last year the car was perfect and I never put a foot wrong so I'll settle for that again which would be a massive confidence booster going into the Wyedean the week after."
Image courtesy of Marcus Andrews: Paul Bird in action on the 2012 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally