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Daniel Harper scored one of his best results of his rallying career when he finished fourth overall and took maximum Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship points on the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally in his Minisport-run John Cooper Works Mini WRC. And in a thrilling 11 special stage battle over the big jumps and twists of Northern Ireland’s closed roads, Wayne Sission survived a high-speed off through a fence to maintain his lead in the series in his AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.

It was Harper’s first appearance in Northern Ireland since 1995 (when he rolled out of the Ulster Rally), but he was quickly into his stride and setting some consistently fast times as others around him spun into the scenery and left bodywork parts scattered across County Down. Having finished second on the Manx National and third in Rally van Wervik, another faultless performance by Harper and co-driver Chris Campbell was rewarded with the jackpot prize of maximum points, moving him from third to second in the series.

Melvyn Evans found that the Fiesta WRC was a lot more physical to drive than his previous Subaru Impreza WRC, but he hadn’t expected an unnerving vibration from the rear under moderate braking. It was so bad that he had to back off in several places, as getting the car to the finish in one piece was very much the priority. It was a learning exercise that he and co-driver Mark Glennerster relished, and being one and a half seconds per mile faster the final time through the stages was an indication of how quickly he had adapted to the car. Second in the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and ninth overall was a truly great result, all things considered.

Sisson was joined in the cockpit of his Mitsubishi by a bird that flew in through the air vent on SS3, but he and co-driver Max Freeman carried on regardless. A more worrying moment came at a square right on SS8, where Sisson locked the brakes and careered along a fence – reaching the end of the stage with no turbo boost caused by a long wooden fence post that had speared itself neatly inside the engine bay. Thankfully, no more alien objects joined the ride during the third and final loop of stages, were a third place finish maintains his Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and B14 class lead.

Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke appeared in their Manx National winning North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC and were looking to regain the Championship lead, but it wasn’t to be their event. The Builth Wells driver found that the brakes were locking up, which contributed to a spin into a bank on SS4, damaging the rear bumper and spoiler and costing over 15 seconds. Worse was to follow on the second loop, when he spun again and got the car stuck between two banks on a narrow section of road, just after a crest. He had to get out of the car and flag down an on-coming David Bogie, before getting going again, minus the front bumper and over a minute wasted. Bagging points for fourth was a very good salvage job and keeps his title chances very much alive.

Not even Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks survived the Down Rally unscathed, as their magnificent season almost came to an abrupt end on SS4 when they skidded on some slippery mud in a farmyard and clattered their Groundwater Lift Trucks/AMS-backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X head first into a tree. Luckily it was just half a mile from the end of the stage and with bent steering and a damaged radiator they got back to service and eventually finished fifth.

A change to a softer suspension set-up saw David Hardie/John McCulloch improve after first service in their TEG Sport Subaru Impreza. Now able to ride the bumps better, they increased their pace to finish an excellent sixth.

It was a similar situation for Philip Hopkins/Aled Edwards, who found that their Spencer Sport-run Mitsubishi Mirage R5 had acquired a new tendency to land on its nose – so hard in fact, that one landing smashed the windscreen. Increasing the ride height at the front, replacing a broken rear anti-roll bar and changing the damper settings transformed the car – allowing the Bristol driver to finish seventh, albeit with oil all over the front of the car, after the oil stick blew out on the final stage.

Geoff Wright had been looking forward to the Down Rally, until he started feeling ill on the morning of the event. He got worse as the event progressed, and was physically throwing up at stage ends as energy and colour drained away. Together with Chris Sanderson, he did remarkably well to not just finish, but come home eighth in his FJ Booth Construction Fiesta S2000 to extend his lead in the R5 category.

Ross Brusby/Tom Murphy survived a spin into a tree near the end of SS4 which dented a rear quarter of their Chesterfield Transporters Ford Escort Mk2 to come home ninth, while young west Wales duo Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle did brilliantly well to finish their first Irish rally in tenth in their rapidly improving JJ Aggregate-backed Citroen C1 Max. Olli Hopkins/Ian Taylor just missed out on a top 10 finish in their Hopkins Motorsport Mitsubishi Evo 9.

Ed Fossey, together with Neil Colman, extended his lead in the F2 category after another good performance in his Yokohama-backed Peugeot 208 R2, which he’d hired from Melvyn Evans Motorsport.

Paul Doroszczuk were also delighted with their performance, winning the B11 class and jumping into the class series lead (by four points) in their normally-aspirated Cosworth engine Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2. They were lucky not to puncture a tyre when they clipped a bank on SS4 and took a chunk out of a rim, but an added incentive to drive as fast as possible was to get his co-driving brother Julian to the dentist, as he’d done the entire event with a painful abscess. They were kept honest all event by a hard-charging Geoff Glover/Keith Barker, who enjoyed their first rally in Northern Ireland, despite their rear-wheel drive Astra not ideally suited to the jumps and bumps.

Steve Retchless/Sasha Heriot had an “almost embarrassingly cautious” start in their newly-rebuilt and immaculate stage rally Morris Lubricants/ backed Escort Mk2. Their pace increased and were eventually rewarded with an excellent result – which gives them the joint lead of the B13 class, after Tim and Jack Waters retired their Renault Clio V6 (which was sporting a striking new colour scheme) with fuel starvation problems.

Graham Sherry/Sinclair Young crunched their way to the finish in a Weston Transport Honda that had a dodgy third gear, but it was still a good result in the near-standard double Scottish Civic Challenge winning car. Gearbox had been a worry for Kevin Harbour/Dave Tortoishell last time out in Belgium, but there were no such dramas this time in their class B10 leading Dovebank Motors Citroen C2R2.

Welsh pairing Mike Pugsley/Mark Clatworthy extended their commanding class B12 lead in their beautiful Escort Mk1 RS2000. A heavy landing cut the power on one stage, but otherwise it was a textbook run in the 1974 machine. Mike is married to a Northern Irish lady and he fulfilled a 25-year promise to come and rally on these wonderful roads, with accommodation provided courtesy of his mother-in-law!

Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson finished a very impressive fifth overall in his The Scan Station Fiesta R5, but the Melvyn Evans Motorsport pair were denied Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship points after failing to carry the mandatory decals. A similar fate befell Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Fiesta.

Adrian Spencer/Matt Daniels had a turbo boost pipe come off on SS2 and in an effort to regain lost time had a massive 360° spin after a jump the first time through the signature Hamilton’s Folly stage, which damaged the front and rear of their Red Industries Subaru Impreza WRC beyond repair. Brian Watson/Sean Donnelly also retired their similar Subaru with steering failure on SS5. It was also power steering issues which saw David Bogie/John Rowan retire their CA1 Sport-run ŠKODA Fabia R5, although they’d achieved everything they’d hoped for in what was a pre-Ulster Rally test.

John MacNiven/Graeme Kermode made a great start in their Subaru Impreza, moving up 10 places on seeding in the opening two stages. However, it wasn’t to be the Mull pairing’s day, as the gearbox failed on SS3 – while Berian Richards/Rhys Stoneman retired their Escort RS1800 in SS4. Richard and Pat Egger were hoping to close the gap in the B11 class in their Highland Cottage-backed Vauxhall Nova, but retired after SS3 with engine issues.

Richard Clews was co-driven for the day by Matt Edwards – who currently leads both the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship and Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series in the drivers’ standings! They lost the rear spoiler after a landing on the opening loop, but sadly overheating problems were to stop their ITG Air Filters Subaru Impreza after SS8.

Daniel Harper (1st) said: “Considering the standard of the entry on the Down Rally, finishing fourth overall and first in the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship has to be one of our best ever events. From our point of view, it’s all gone to plan – which is unusual in rallying! We’ve scored some good results in the past in front-wheel drive cars and it’s taken a lot of effort by not just myself, but by my co-driver Chris and the entire team to get to where we are now in a four-wheel drive Mini WRC, so I’m very pleased. It’s been a brilliant event, the stages were excellent and it’s been very well organised – I take my hat off to all the event officials and marshals for putting on a very good and highly enjoyable event.”

Melvyn Evans (2nd) said: “I’m happy enough to finish where we have done on our first event in a Fiesta WRC. The car is very different to drive than my Subaru, and I think we needed another day of competition to be really on the pace. Having said that, we had a good push through the final loop of stages and it felt really good. It was important for us to get the car to the finish and to not do anything draft – and we’ve achieved that without putting a mark on it.”

Wayne Sisson (3rd) said: “We can’t really compete on stage times against our World Rally Cars rivals, so it’s a case of pushing as hard as we can and be in a position to benefit from any mishaps that occur ahead. It’s great to still be leading the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and to continue our great run, which now includes two third places and a fifth. We’ve scored on all rounds so far and the lowest score we have to drop is seventh, but if anyone near us fails to finish then that will be their second dropped score. The Championship is wide open and there is everything to play for in the last two rounds.”

The live streaming broadcasts from the Rathfriland MC and Ballynahinch & DMC organised Down Rally, with commentary from Howard Davies and special guest Alastair Fisher, will remain on-line for viewing on the Special Stage Facebook page. Edited highlights will be broadcast on Motorsport TV, on Front Runner and on the Motor Trend On Demand channel, as well as the Special Stage Facebook, YouTube and App platforms, in due course – please check TV guides for details.

Round 5 of the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship is the Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally (25/26 August).

2018 Carryduff Folklift Down Rally – Top 10 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship finishers
1. Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell (John Cooper Works Mini WRC)….56mins 11.2secs
2. Melvyn Evans/Mark Glennerster (Ford Fiesta WRC)….57mins 02.7secs
3. Wayne Sisson/Max Freeman (Mitsubishi Evo)….58mins 32.1secs
4. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC)….58mins 48.8secs
5. Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Evo)….59mins 53.8secs
6. David Hardie/John McCulloch (Subaru Impreza)….59mins 55.6secs
7. Philip Hopkins/Aled Edwards (Mitsubishi Mirage R5)….1hr 00mins 16.5secs
8. Geoff Wright/Chris Sanderson (Fiesta S2000)….1hr 00mins 37.5secs
9. Ross Brusby/Tom Murphy (Ford Escort Mk2)….1hr 02mins 14.2secs
10. Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroen C1 Max)….1hr 03mins 31.6secs

Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship – provisional overall driver points after Round 4
1. Wayne Sisson….101pts
2. Daniel Harper….85pts
3. Jason Pritchard….82pts
4. Barry Groundwater….75pts
5. Melvyn Evans….57pts
6. Ed Fossey….55pts
7. Adrian Spencer….51pts
8. Philip Hopkins….46pts
9. Phil Turner….46pts
10. Steve Retchless….46pts

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