Reigning champion Steve Wood and Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship leader Neil Roskell were separated by just 0.1 seconds after a dazzling battle on the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally (Saturday 22 July).
The top Protyre Asphalt position swapped several times – and neither driver escaped the eight challenging Northern Ireland stages unscathed as they pushed hard in the often damp and slippery conditions.
Having been 1.8 seconds quicker on the opening stage, Wood was 5.5 seconds behind Roskell at mid-distance – thanks, in part, to understeering into a tree on a square left-hand corner. The Aberystwyth driver fought back and, thanks in part to a few mistakes by his rival, regained the advantage.
It was an especially pleasing maximum points score for Wood, who was making his first Protyre Asphalt appearance in his new Citroën C3 Rally2 and was co-driven for the first time by Rob Fagg.
Roskell and co-driver Andrew Roughead were on equally inspired form and battled hard for top points in their ND Civils/Burdens/Witham Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2. And the Blackpool ace may well have left with the full 30 driver points, had he not spun on SS5 and fluffed a handbrake turn on SS6.
Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh used all their vast experienced to master the closed roads, which included the famous Hamilton’s Folly stage, to take third place Protyre Asphalt points in their Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Will Hill/Richard Crozier have moved up to second in the overall standings after another magnificent drive in their 1.5 litre EcoBoost engined Hills Ford Fiesta Rally3. They are also the provisional class B14 champions, despite an overshot up someone’s driveway on SS2!
Callum Black/Jack Morton had established a healthy Protyre Asphalt lead of just over a minute when they failed to slow their Pirelli-shod Pallas Connections Ford Fiesta Rally2 down enough for a right hander on SS4 and slid off the road and out of the event. The mishap sees them slip from second to fourth in the standings, although their title challenge remains very much alive.
Richard Clews (co-driven by Carl Williamson) scored fifth place overall points after an excellent run in his Chevron Motorsport-prepared ITG Subaru Impreza STi.
Darren Atkinson was the top 2WD finisher, taking home sixth place points to move up to third in the overall drivers’ standings. Reunited with co-driver Phil Sandham, the Haldane Fisher Escort Mk2 driver has taken the lead in the Escort Challenge and also heads the competitive B13 class.
Sam Adams has provisionally clinched the Fuchs Lubricants / OnThePaceNote supported Protyre Asphalt Junior and class B12 titles after another fantastic drive in his Pinto-engined Escort Mk2. It’s been a truly wonderful debut season by the Ballymoney driver and co-driver Michael Johnston.
Anthony Eaton took home eighth place Protyre Asphalt points after a good run in his Autotest Ford Fiesta R5, which was the perfect birthday present for co-driver Ian Jackson.
Andy Scott/Ian Robertson finished a very impressive ninth overall Protyre Asphalt crew and second in B13 in their P.A.C.E. Escort Mk2 to strengthen their class title challenge.
John and Rachael McCullough completed the Protyre Asphalt top 10 in their Hoosier-shod KPR Mechanical Escort Mk2 – winning the Dynamic Fluids Best Presented Car Award and provisionally securing the runners-up spot in class B12.
Also netting a well-deserved finish was Geoff Glover/Keith Barker in their self-prepared Vauxhall Astra RWD. Lee and Cole Hastings crashed their John Gibson & Sons-backed Subaru Impreza on the opening stage, while Michael Harbour’s faultless class podium finishing record came to an end when he and co-driver Ian MacDougall crashed their VS Pro Pressure Washing Services/Miller Waste Water Escort Mk2.
Action from the Down Rally is available to view on the Special Stage TV Facebook and You Tube pages, with commentary from Paul Woodford and special guest presenter John Stone.
The 2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship will conclude with the double header JDS Machinery Rali Ceredigion, which will host Rounds 7 and 8 on 2/3 September.
More information on the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship is available at: www.asphaltrallying.com.
Carryduff Forklift Down Rally– top 10 registered 2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship finishers:
1. Steve Wood/Rob Fagg (Citroën C3 Rally2)….55mins 53.7secs
2. Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….55mins 53.8secs
3. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….58mins 04.7secs
4. William Hill/Richard Crozier (Ford Fiesta Rally3)….58mins 39.9secs
5. Richard Clews/Carl Williamson (Subaru Impreza STi)….58mins 55.2secs
6. Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham (Ford Escort Mk2)….59mins 37.9secs
7. Sam Adams/Michael Johnston (Ford Escort Mk2)….1hr 00mins 27.8secs
8. Anthony Eaton/Ian Jackson (Ford Fiesta R5)….1hr 00mins 28.6secs
9. Andy Scott/Ian Robertson (Ford Escort Mk2)….1hr 06mins 05.9secs
10. John McCullough/Rachael McCullough (Ford Escort Mk2)….1hr 06mins 24.6secs
2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – top 6 drivers’ overall after Round 6:
1. Neil Roskell….157pts
2. Will Hill….133pts
3. Darren Atkinson….117pts
4. Callum Black….115pts
5. Sam Adams….87pts
6. David Wright….86pts
Words: PROTYRE MOTORSPORT UK ASPHALT RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP | Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]