FORMER British junior champion Guy Wilks is set to contest the biggest event of his career when he competes in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain next week.

After finishing third in the competitive Super 1600 class in this season's British Rally Championship, the 21-year-old from Heighington, near Darlington, has been granted a drive in Britain's round of the World Rally Championship, which gets underway in Cardiff on Thursday.

Wilks, who works as a manager in the family garage business, only started rallying three years ago after a successful trials riding career. He immediately sprung to prominence in the Ford Ka championship in his maiden year, winning the junior championship.

He then progressed to the Ford Puma championship in 2001 and, despite the lack of activity due to the foot-and-mouth epidemic, finished second in the series.

His performance over the two seasons earned him a drive with the brand new official Ford Junior Rallye Team for this season.

He impressed with a string of good results to end up in third place behind seasoned veterans Justin Dale and Gwyndaf Evans, suffering a run of bad luck after leading the series at the mid-point.

However, it will not be the first taste of World Championship action for Wilks, who made quite an impact when he contested both the Swedish and German rallies earlier in the year.

In Sweden, he was running well in his first competitive outing in a four-wheel drive car when he went out with mechanical problems.

He was then lying fourth in the Junior World Championship in Germany, only to drop down to seventh after some problems on the all-tarmac event.

He said: "I've had a taste of competing against the world's best drivers on both snow and tarmac and now it's my chance on gravel.

"I'm not too familiar with the Welsh forests and it will be a good test, especially as the roads are likely to cut up and the weather will play a part.

"There is bound to be lots of pressure on me, but it's my chance to prove myself worthy of a drive next season so I'll be giving it 100pc.

"My plan is to get inside the top ten of the Super 1600 cars on leg one and then go for an all-out attack on the second day and try to make the finish."

Wilks will drive his usual 1600cc Ford Puma on the rally, with his regular co-driver, Scotsman Roger Herron, alongside.

Teaming up with him for the four-day, 1,000-mile event are local Ford dealers, Holiways, whose managing director Mathew Hardy competed against Wilks in the Ford Ka championship in 2000.

He has every confidence that his friend will be successful on the event.

"Guy is a great driver who we've known for a long time and Holiways are very happy to help him in what is Britain's biggest sporting event.

"He is the only driver from our region contesting the rally, so who better to support as he only lives a few miles down the road", said Hardy from his Newton Aycliffe office.

Just 90 cars will take to the start in the Welsh capital on Thursday evening before three loops of stages around the forests of South Wales over the next three days.

Finland's Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) has already clinched the drivers' title, but British favourites Colin McRae (Ford) and Richard Burns (Peugeot) will be vying for the support of about two million home spectators expected to line the route.

l See page 29 for Wally Richmond's trials round-up