Henry and Greer to fine-tune Ulster preparations at Down Rally
With the Ulster International just a few weeks away, Saturday's Carryduff Forklift Down Rally offers an ideal warm-up for drivers like Desi Henry, Jonny Greer and Scot David Bogie.
The fact that it is the first round of the Protyre UK Asphalt Championship to be staged in Northern Ireland, bringing a strong group of cross-channel drivers, is not of direct interest to them, but the chance to get a full day of competitive tarmac preparation is.
In hot, dry conditions, their R5 cars may struggle to keep up with the more powerful WRC cars of the top UK contenders including the Ford Fiesta of Melvyn Evans, the only Welshman to win the Irish National series, but they have their eyes on Irish Tarmac and British Championship points in a month's time.
Evans is best known this side of the Irish Sea as the preparation specialist who supplied the Subaru which has carried Manus Kelly to a rare hat-trick of Donegal International wins, but he is a top driver in his own right and won the Tour of Epynt, the first round of the Protyre series, earlier this season as well as the Irish National title back in 2010.
His winning Subaru S12 has been sold and Evans switches to a WRC Fiesta to head up a capacity entry list, which also includes Manx National winner Jason Pritchard in a WRC Ford Focus and Daniel Harper in his WRC Mini.
There are more than a dozen WRC cars in the field which heads out from the Eikon Exhibition Centre at Sprucefield on Saturday morning (8.30am), including the S14 Subarus of NI champions Derek McGarrity and Kenny McKinstry, as well as the WRC Fiesta of another former Irish National champion, Peadar Hurson.
The McGrady Insurance NI Championship is also part of the Down event and McGarrity, with seven titles already to his credit, again leads this season's series and he's joined in the line-up by two other former champions, Stuart Biggerstaff and Robin Phillips, plus Greer, the current champion.
Greer, Tour of the Sperrins winner Henry and the other R5 challengers will see Merion Evans, Melvyn's son, who has been a British Junior Championship contender in recent seasons, face them in just his second outing in a Fiesta.
Amy Cox and Emma McKinstry, returning after the birth of baby James, add a competitive female element to an event which covers 11 stages, including the renowned Hamilton's Folly and three short tests within the grounds of the Eikon Centre at the Maze.
Meanwhile, a threat hangs over the Manx International Rally, the penultimate round of the British Championship, after the Department of Infrastructure in the Isle of Man refused to grant the necessary road closing orders, citing dissatisfaction with the organisation.
A meeting with department officials is due to take place later today in an effort to resolve the issues, which relate to safety concerns.