SHILDON rally driver Barry Johnson exerted his authority in the County Saab Scottish Rally Championship with his fourth straight victory following last Sunday's Scottish National Rally based in Dumfries.

Driving the ex-Petter Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC S9, the County Durham businessman and co-driver Stewart Merry emerged some 13 seconds to the good over their nearest rivals after taking three fastest stage times out of the five competitive tests which comprised the event.

The 2002 champion set second-fastest time on SS1 before taking the lead on the next stage. He was then never headed and now leads the series by 18 points at the halfway stage, needing just two victories from the final four rounds to guarantee the crown again.

Johnson also contested round three of the Pirelli Kwik Fit British Rally Championship, based in the region earlier in the weekend. Despite problems, he came away with a battling fourth place in the Barrier Surveillance-sponsored car.

A steady run round the opening pair of spectator stages at Heathall saw him set third and fourth-fastest times respectively, but a problem on the long Ae West stage saw the pair drop to 15th overall at the overnight halt.

With the dry weather causing horrendous dust problems, Saturday's leg was always going to be difficult. So it proved as Johnson took advantage to grab the lead early on, only to relinquish it when he caught championship leader Austin MacHale's Ford Focus WRC on SS7.

Brake problems thwarted any hopes Johnson had of climbing back into contention, but the JPM team worked miracles to keep their man in the rally and, despite a pair of punctures late on, Johnson held on to claim fourth place at the finish ramp.

Hamsterley's Stevie Petch and Tow Law co-driver Mike Wilkinson also had their fair share of problems in their SGP Motorsport Subaru Impreza.

The youngsters were inside the top 15 at the overnight halt, but hopes of a good result went west on the second stage on Saturday morning when they suffered a puncture and had to run for seven miles on the rim, damaging the suspension in the process.

But more drama was to follow for the County Durham crew when they suffered brake problems late in the day and had to effect some hasty repairs themselves before returning to service.

Turbo problems also caused them some concern late on, but eventually they nursed the Richie Windress-prepared car home 14th overall and sixth in class.

Petch now lies in fifth position in the BRC Production Cup and second in the junior driver standings going into next month's Jim Clark Rally based in the Scottish Borders.

l Catterick Village autograss racer Martyn Tinker continued his great start to the 2005 season by taking second place on last weekend's MAP Open event which took place at Stratford upon Avon.

A total of 747 cars converged on Warwickshire for the Midland Autograss Promotions annual event and Tinker, driving the class seven Millington-engined MAN Transmissions Renault Clio, took a brace of wins and a third place in his heats before claiming second place in the final.

Before that, Tinker and two other local drivers were in action at the North of England meeting held at Green Hammerton, near York.

Tinker won all three heats before being placed fourth in the final, while Darlington's Graham Blackburn took victory in class seven in his Suzuki-engined Citroen and Martin Janes took a class win in class six in his Astra. Janes also claimed third at the MAP Open event.

* Two of the stars of British motorcycle racing will be attending a chat show in Northallerton on Tuesday evening as guests of the North Yorkshire Road Racing Supporters Club.

Cheshire rider Craig Jones and his Northpoint Ekerold Honda teammate Cal Crutchlow, from Coventry, will be visiting Northallerton Town Football Club along with team manager and top ex-racer Pete Jennings.

Jones qualified on the front row of the grid for the recent World Supersport meeting at Silverstone and Crutchlow is a regular podium visitor in the Metabo British Supersport Championship.

Both riders played in the recent charity soccer match held over the Croft British Superbike Championship weekend and will be next in action at Knockhill in Scotland next weekend when round seven of the series takes place.

Admission is just £2 and the show gets under way at 8pm. More details from Sue Symons on 01904 339647.

Meanwhile, Guisborough Superbike rider Dennis Hobbs will hope to make his long-awaited comeback from injury at Knockhill when he takes the controls of the Team Nvidia Yamaha R1.

The team has been testing in South Wales this week and Hobbs is confident of a good result on his return to the series, having missed his home race at Croft two weeks ago.

* Rainton racer Tony Thirkell and passenger Roy King finished 17th and 12th in the two sidecar races held at last week's TT festival on the Isle of Man.

Aboard their 600cc Honda outfit, the pair put the disappointment of missing out on a prized bronze replica by just one position in Saturday's A race to finish 12th in the B race held on Wednesday. They lapped the 37.75-mile mountain course at an average speed of over 104mph.

TT ace Greg Lambert from Catterick Garrison encountered problems in both events, finishing 38th in Saturday's race having held a top ten position along with passenger Richard Long. A broken visor then forced him out of Wednesday's race.

Scorton's Ruth Laidlow claimed 37th place in Saturday's race along with experienced passenger Ian Simons, with Chester le Street racer David Bell claiming 21st position in the Supersport Junior TT with an average lap time of 114.2mph which netted him a bronze replica.