THE future is looking very bright for Orangebox driver Steve Entwistle.

For the Rishton-based rallyman will contest the full HRCR Clubmans Rally Championship, which starts this weekend, with backing from an East Lancashire company.

Mini Sport of Padiham are sponsoring Steve’s title attack in the iconic ex-Roy Mapple Mini.

“I’ve never been able to do a full HRCR Championship because I’ve never had the support, but thanks to Mini Sport, I reckon I’m in with a chance of getting some silverware,” said Entwistle.

“With 10 rounds spread all over the country, almost one a month, it’s a big commitment both in terms of money and time. But I’m confident that with Mini Sport’s expertise and backing, I can do well.

“The top end of the field is packed with Porsches and Mk1 Escorts. I’d like to beat them, but if we could finished top Mini – and there are a lot of those too – I’d be a very happy man at the end of the year.”

For Mini Sport, acknowledged as one of the UK's leading supplier of Mini parts and accessories, the deal marks the start of a return to their rallying roots.

The company, which was founded in 1967 by Brian and Heather Harper, have a history in the sport, with sons Daniel, Chris and Jonathan all enjoying success behind the wheel.

Engineering director Daniel Harper competed for many years with a classic Mini Cooper S, before graduating to a BMW version, which he still uses on selected events.

“We have been impressed by Steve’s self-funded exploits in Orangebox, particularly his debut on last year’s Rally of the Tests.” said Chris Harper.

“We were happy to give technical and parts support on that event, and to come away with second in class and ninth overall was particularly impressive.

“It was after seeing what Steve could achieve on a high-profile rally that we decided to go further.”

As part of Mini Sport’s sponsorship, the company have built a new 1293cc, road rally specification engine for Entwistle to use in his Orangebox and, with over 100bhp under the bonnet, it represents a big power jump.

“My old engine was 997cc and had around 70bhp, so this is going to be substantially quicker,” added Entwistle.

“The car will feel like a different animal, and although I’ve been out testing this week, I haven’t driven it in anger since the Rally of the Tests five months ago.

“Our plan for the Tour of Cheshire is quite simple. Get round in one piece and pick up some points, anything else will be a bonus.

“There’s a full 75-car entry out of all the UK’s top historic crews, and although we finished 12th overall last year I’m under no illusions about how tough it will be.

“The format of 12 tests and eight regularities in one day means there’s no let-up, and the slightest mistake wrecks your chances of a decent result, so we’re aiming not to make any mistakes.”