Edwards can lay Down marker ahead of Ulster tilt
British champion Matt Edwards is a surprise entry for next week's Carryduff Forklift Down Rally, which will again be based at the Eikon Exhibition Centre, Balmoral Park, near Lisburn.
Edwards, who shares the lead in this year's British Championship with fellow Welshman Tom Cave, plans to use the July 20 event as preparation for the fifth round of the BRC series, the Ulster Rally, next month.
The Down Rally, run jointly by the Rathfriland and Ballynahinch clubs and voted an outstanding success last season, is part of the national-level Protyre UK Asphalt Championship but with the Ulster Rally moving to a new base at Newry it will give Edwards the opportunity to acclimatise himself to the type of terrain he can expect when he returns in August.
His win in Ulster last year was his first on this side of the Irish Sea and proved pivotal in his run to the British title.
Edwards' M-Sport R5 Ford Fiesta is listed at No.2 in next week's starting line-up which is headed by last year's winner Jonny Greer, who will also be in an R5 Fiesta.
Another Welshman, Melvyn Evans, a former Irish national champion, is seeded at three in an R5 Skoda.
The more powerful WRC cars are permitted to take part and they are led by the new Ford Fiesta of Lancastrian Tom Preston at four followed by the Mini of Northern Ireland Championship leader Derek McGeehan and the Fiesta of Damien Cole, who tops the UK Asphalt standings.
Missing, however, is Jason Pritchard, who won the first three rounds of the UK series but has opted to skip the trip to Ulster.
Northern Ireland champion Derek McGarrity starts at five in his WRC Fiesta ahead of the WRC Mini of Daniel Harper, another of the cross-channel contingent.
Jon Armstrong, the World eRally champion from Fermanagh, will make his WRC car debut in one of the McGeehan Motorsport Minis at No.9 with Stephen Wright, winner of the first round of the NI series, completing the top 10 in his R5 Fiesta.
Meirion Evans, son of Melvyn, is making the trip from Wales, too, with his R5 Hyundai ahead of the Ulster Rally which is a counting round of the Irish Tarmac Championship.
The capacity entry list also includes two former NI champions, Kenny McKinstry and Stuart Biggerstaff, the latter listed to drive an R5 Fiesta rather than his regular WRC Subaru.
Meanwhile, Damien Toner, who is also in the Down entry list, made it five wins in a row in the North Armagh Club's Rainbow Communications Rally at Loughgall Country Park on Saturday.
The Armagh driver, in his Ford Escort, was a again a clear winner ahead of Barry Morris, Shane Cullen, John Bradley and Wesley Patterson, all in Escorts.
Co-driver Ronan Comerford got the chance to sit alongside serial winner Toner in a raffle to raise money for 'Katie Rose's Journey' - a fund to help finance treatment in America for the eight-year-old girl who suffers from High Risk Neuroblastoma. Damien has pledged to contribute £5,000 to the fund.
Mark Francis and Katie Lemon, in their Mazda RX5, won the TOC Utilities Targa Rally by just one second from the similar car of Eric Patterson and Raymond Donaldson.
Paul and Brendan Mooney were six seconds further back in third in a Vauxhall Nova with Matthew Mason and Marshall Kennedy fourth in their Nissan Micra.