The Lancashire driver is bidding for a first victory on Manx tarmac with his Subaru Impreza WRC, and to claim what would be a first win for off-island drivers in the near 15 year history of club closed roads events.
Cope and his local co-driver Rob Fagg, top a record entry of 63 crews in the absence of dominant local ace Rob Watson, to whom they finished as runner-up last year after a terrific scrap on the closing tests. Since then they have also finished second on the demanding Tour of Mull.
Their major local challenge is set to come from a battery of Mitsubishi’s, although it is dented by the late withdrawal of George Collister on Tuesday.
Steve Quine will now start behind Cope, though the Vauxhall Astra looks outpaced by what are very fast stages that will suit the turbo cars. ‘Smiler’ also has a new man on the notes, the experienced Paul McCann.
Instead it is likely to fall to Mark and Eunice Cubbon, Noel Kelly and Richard Burchall and Donny Gill and Steve Gurney to uphold local honours, all in varying Evo’s.
One other crew who can’t be left out of contention are Steve Colley and Liz Humphreys in an Evo 6. The last time we saw Steve at the sharp end of a rally he was cruelly denied outright victory by a jump start penalty, so there’s no doubting the pace and the pair will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
The off-island challenge grows stronger each year and several other Mull regulars are making the trip, with Daniel Harper and John Cressey returning with the supercharged BMW Mini’s). Along with Chris Woodcock (Evo 6), they start in the top 10.
The entry for the opening round of the Eurocars Motorsport Manx Rally Championship is so strong in fact that reigning champions Richard Curphey and Andrew Holmes start at 11.
In among the classes, the historics look particularly strong. John Corlett is back in an Escort RS2000, while Adrian Kermode, Ulster legend Derek Boyd and Mike Anderson from England all have Porsche’s. Add in Pete Johnson (Escort), Pat Bettridge (VW Golf) and David Mylchreest (MGB) and the Peel spectators look set for a treat.
The rally begins tonight (Friday) from St Johns at 7pm, with six tests covering 35 miles. The opener heads up Glenneedle and down the Shoulder Road to South Barrule . From there it’s on to the Peel Coast Road run from Ballagyr to finish at Barregarrow. The third test of the loop takes in Druidale, Brandywell Cottage, Injerbreck, West Baldwin and Eyreton. The three are tackled again after service at St Johns .
A further ten stages over 40 miles follow on Saturday, with a 10am re-start at the former Jurby Parade Ground. Again it’s two loops of three before lunch, with the Lhen roads around Jurby and Andreas to start, then up Tholt-y-Will from the Claddaghs, and finished with the super-fast run along the Brandywell Road to the Cottage and on down Druidale.
After that, all roads lead to Peel, which the crews will tackle four times, mixing in at 30 second intervals.