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Damian Cole is looking to extend his lead in the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship when he takes his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC to the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally (20 July) – but he’ll have plenty of tough opposition aiming to deny him the maximum haul of points he’s searching for, most notably from John Stone (Fiesta WRC) and from an array of top R5-spec cars driven by the likes of Melvyn Evans (ŠKODA Fabia R5), Meirion Evans (Hyundai i20 R5), Alan Kirkaldy (Fiesta R5) and Oli Hopkins (Mitsubishi Mirage).

Six time champion Cole has been super consistent so far this season, with a second placed points finish on the opening Rallynuts National Tour of Epynt Rally and a pair of fifth-placed points scored on the Masterpixel Media Manx National Rally. With maximum points scored on the most recent Rally van Wervik, the Abergavenny ace knows he now has to better his Isle of Man results, as the two scores to drop rule will soon come into play. Having been co-driven by Shelley Rogerson, Max Freeman and Dale Bowen so far this season, Cole will have Paul Spooner on the notes in Northern Ireland.

With Cole’s main title rival Jason Pritchard unable to contest the Down Rally, John Stone/Jack Morton have a great opportunity to rocket up the points table in their Legend Fires-backed Fiesta WRC. Having taken second placed points last time out on Belgium, the Blackburn driver is on great form and another good result in his ex-Mikko Hirvonen Ford will highlight his status as a serious title challenger.

Melvyn Evans picked up the Asphalt series silverware last year on the Down Rally in what was his first event in a Fiesta WRC. Co-driven by Aled Davies, the Welshman returns again this year, but this time in a newly acquired ŠKODA Fabia R5. His son Meirion Evans is contesting the Irish Tarmac Championship and together with Jonathan Jackson is more than match-ready in his Hyundai i20 R5. It might be their first appearance in the Asphalt series this season, but both the Melvyn Evans Motorsport crews will be challenging for top points.

Alan Kirkaldy arrives in Lisburn leading the R5 category in his Cairnsmill Caravan Park Fiesta R5. The St Andrews pilot is also a magnificent third in the overall drivers’ points standings and is keen to defend that position. He’ll be co-driven as usual by Cameron Fair. Chris Ford is second in the R5 table after a good season so far in his Century Autosport Fiesta R5. Partnered by Neil Colman, another strong result like he had last time out in Belgium (where he scored points for finishing sixth) will do his title challenge no harm at all.

For giant-killing potential, look no further than Wayne Sisson. On paper, his immaculate AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X should be no match for the WRC and R5 cars, but that has never stopped the Carnforth driver exceeding expectations. He even finished third in the Asphalt points on the Down Rally last year, despite a high-speed off through a fence. This time Sisson will be co-driven by Michael Hendry.

On the subject of flying Mitsubishis, Oli Hopkins/Ian Taylor are back in their Hopkins Motorsport-owned Mirage after showing considerable speed on Epynt and on the Isle of Man. Always fast on closed road events, another good result will greatly improved the Bristol driver’s current ninth place in the overall standings, whilst he is also second, just behind Sisson, in the battle for class B14 honours.

Last year Richard Clews was co-driven on the Down Rally by British Rally champion driver Matt Edwards, but their great run was curtailed by overheating problems. This year the Coventry driver will be back co-driven by Hamish Campbell, and hoping for more luck in his smart ITG Air Filters Subaru Impreza.

The close class battle continues in B10, where Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroën C1 Max) lead Adrian Drury/Cat Lund (Drury Deliveries Peugeot 106 GTi) by just nine points.

After four rounds, just one point separates Geoff Glover and John Devlin in class B11. Co-driven as usual by Keith Barker, Glover will be at the wheel of his rear-wheel drive Astra, which didn’t like the bumpy roads on its first rally in Northern Ireland last year, but which scored a very good result nonetheless. Devlin meanwhile took maximum class points both times on the double-header Manx National Rally, despite contesting the event for the first time as a driver. This time the Banbridge man will be co-driven by John McCarthy in his rapid Escort Mk2. Also in a Chesterfield Transporters-backed Escort Mk2 are Ross Brusby/Dave Robson.

Meanwhile defending B12 champions Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy will be aiming to move one step closer to retaining their title in their 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000, while a good result in their Ray Thomas & Sons/WCS Environmental-backed Vauxhall Nova will give Will Mains/Claire Williams one hand on the 1400S trophy.

On his first Championship appearance since 2014, Darren Atkinson won the B13 class on both the Friday and Saturday legs on the Isle of Man in his Atkinsons Sandblasting/Dennison Trailers/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2. He then won the class again in Belgium. Co-driven by Phil Sandham, the Lancaster driver will be aiming to extend his class lead, hold onto his fourth place in the overall driver standings and challenge for that prestigious top two-wheel drive finishing position.

Special Stage will be in Northern Ireland with a two camera crew team and hi-tech equipment to broadcast the action LIVE on its Facebook page. Howard Davies and Gemma Watson will be commentating from the many magnificent vantage points the event has to offer.

Organised by Rathfriland MC and Ballynahinch & DMC, the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally contains a total of 11 special stages covering 55 stage miles on closed roads in County Down. Starting at 08.30, the event includes four separate closed road stages before the finish ceremony at 17.00. Rally headquarters and the service area are based at the EIKON Centre in Lisburn.

Following the start of the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally, registrations will close for the 2019 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship.

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