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Melvyn Evans and co-driver Mark Glennerster will lead the capacity 130 car field away in their first event in a Ford Fiesta WRC at the start of the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally, as Round 4 of the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship takes place on Saturday 21 July.

The Welsh driver won the opening round of the series, the Melvyn Evans Motorsport Tour of Epynt, but has recently sold that Subaru Impreza WRC and will drive a Fiesta WRC that he normally hires out for gravel events. The event will also be Evans’ first appearance on the Northern Ireland stages since the 2009 Circuit of Ireland, so he’ll have his work cut out to repeat his first round victory, especially with such a high quality entry.

Wayne Sisson/Max Freeman lead the Championship after scoring well on all three rounds in their AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, and the B14 class leading crew haven’t put a foot wrong all season. They are currently 18 points ahead of Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke, who appear in their Bet On Aces Manx National winning North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC, and will be set on regaining the series lead.

“Two out of the three rallies we’ve competed on this year I had never done before, so to be leading the Asphalt Rally Championship at the mid-point is really encouraging,” said Sisson. “If we can keep this momentum up, then come the end of the year we should be in a very good position.”

Three registered Subaru Impreza WRCs appear on the start list, courtesy of Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh, Brian Watson/Sean Donnelly and Adrian Spencer/Matt Daniels, while Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell, who are third in the overall standings and lead class B15, aim to continue their great run of form in their Minisport-run John Cooper Works Mini WRC.

Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks are also enjoying a magnificent season, with the Aberdeen driver fourth overall in the drivers’ standings and second in class B14 in his Groundwater Lift Trucks/AMS-backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. It’s great to see the rapid Richard Clews/Hamish Campbell back in their ITG Air Filters Subaru Impreza, as is David Hardie/John McCulloch in their Subaru. Olli Hopkins returns to the series with co-driver Ian Taylor in a Hopkins Motorsport Mitsubishi Evo 9, while John MacNiven/Graeme Kermode cross the Irish Sea from Oban in their Subaru Impreza.

As always, there will be some very interesting class battles taking place. After a good test run on the recent Raven’s Rock Rally, Philip Hopkins/Aled Edwards head back to the lanes in their Spencer Sport-run Mitsubishi Mirage R5, while David Bogie/John Rowan, who scored second place points in their CA1 Sport-run ŠKODA Fabia R5 last time out on Rally van Wervik, return as practice for the upcoming Ulster Rally. A question mark remains over what car Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson will contest the event in, although it might well be a Fiesta R5 – which would add considerably to that hotly contested class battle, which is currently being led by Geoff Wright/Chris Sanderson in their FJ Booth Construction Fiesta S2000.

Steve Retchless/Sasha Heriot kept their class B13 title hopes alive after using a modified road-rally spec Escort Mk2 in Belgium. They head to Northern Ireland 12 points behind Tim and Jack Waters in their magnificent Renault Clio V6, while after an excellent run in Belgium, Ross Brusby aims for another strong showing in his smart Chesterfield Transporters-backed Ford Escort Mk2. Berian Richards makes his first Championship appearance of the season in his Escort RS1800, Mike Pugsley/Mark Clatworthy have entered their Escort Mk1, while Geoff Glover/Keith Barker return in their rear-wheel drive Astra.

Kevin Harbour/Dave Tortoishell are in a close battle for the class B10 title, and the Dovebank Motors Citroen C2R2 crew will be up against Roger Priestnall/Jamie Forrest in their Proton Satria S1600 – while Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle will be aiming for another strong run in their developing Citroen C1 Max.

Yokohama-backed Ed Fossey/Neil Colman have hired a Peugeot 208 R2 from Melvyn Evans Motorsport in which they hope to extend their F2 lead in, while Richard and Pat Egger have a great opportunity to close the gap in the B11 class in their Highland Cottage-backed Vauxhall Nova. Des Campbell/Craig Forsythe travel from Scotland in their Peugeot 206, as do Graham Sherry/Sinclair Young in a Honda Civic. James Nicholls/David Allman contest the event in a Peugeot 205 GTi, Geoffrey Simm’s drives a Nissan Sunny and Adrian Drury/Cat Lund return in their bright orange 106 GTi. Chris Wheeler/Shaun Layland will be hoping that their run of bad luck finally comes to an end in their Citroen DS3 R3T, while Paul and Julian Doroszczuk will also be keen to bounce back in their normally-aspirated Cosworth engine Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2, after retiring in Wervik.

Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Down Rally, including Pirelli, Michelin, Hoosier, Hankook and Kumho tyres, and operate a full fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.

The Down Rally will be streamed live, with commentary from Howard Davies, on the Special Stage Facebook page, while live radio broadcasts and interviews will be available on RallyFM.net. The live streamed footage will remain on-line for fans to view after the event, while edited highlights of the event will be televised on Motorsport TV, on the Sky/Freesat Front Runner channel, on the Motor Trend On Demand channel and on the Special Stage Facebook, YouTube and App platforms shortly afterwards.

Organised by Rathfriland MC and Ballynahinch & DMC, the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally contains a total of 11 special stages covering 61.28 stage miles on closed roads in County Down. Starting at 08.12, the event has two loops of four stages and a final loop of three stages – including three runs over the famous Hamilton’s Folly test – before the finish ceremony at 17.00.

Following the start of the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally, registrations will close for the 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship.

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