FORMER champion Shaun Gardener is hoping Ludlow Castle Motor Club’s Alex Allingham can hit top gear in Saturday’s Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages Rally.

Gardener, who won the rally in 2006 and 2008, had planned to make a comeback this weekend in a new vehicle after last competing at The Cambrian in October 2012.

But Gardener, who runs TNT Tyres in Ludlow, has been forced to cancel his entry because of a persistent back problem.

The Woodpecker Stages Rally is one of the most popular events in the BTRDA calendar.

And Gardener said: “I had entered this year’s Woodpecker Rally and Ben Innes was going to sit beside me.

“I went to see my back specialist and I was looking forward to getting back into the rally car.

“But I have had a problem with my back and went out testing in the vehicle and I am in a bad way. I am absolutely devastated not to be doing it.”

Ludlow driver Henri Grehan is making a comeback alongside co-driver Chris Ridge and Gardener is keeping his fingers crossed for local success.

“I think Alex Allingham is an excellent young driver and I am hoping that he can spring a few surprises.

“I know there are the big boys like Steve Perez in the World Rally Car I it would love to see Alex Allingham or Luke Francis winning it.”

The Woopecker Rally is organised by the Sixty and Worcestershire Motor Club and has become famous for its smooth flowing stages around Ludlow.

The nearby Haye Park stage is used both in the morning and the afternoon of the rally, while the classic Radnor test poses a formidable challenge as the meat of the event.

The Radnor stage can give competitors one of the longest stages used in British club rallying and also allows some flexibility in routes, and can be split into two stages if required.

It offers more than 120 competitors 44-stage miles of forests in Shropshire and Wales.

The first competitors will leave the start ramp at 8.30am on Saturday.