John Stone takes slender Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship lead to County Down

John Stone takes a two-point Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship lead into the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally (Saturday 23 July) – and extending that slender advantage at the top of the drivers’ standings is his number one target.

The Blackburn driver arrives in fine form having just taken the lead of the sealed-surface series in Argyll, and is quietly confident having scored maximum Protyre Asphalt points on the Down Rally in 2019.

He returns to the magnificent closed country roads of County Down not in the same Ford Fiesta WRC that he drove there three years ago, but in his stunning Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 – and with a different co-driver, Laura Connell.

Neil Roskell didn’t start the 2022 season as well as he’d have hoped, but that changed last time out in Scotland when he picked up second place points in his ND Civils/Burdens Ford Fiesta R5+.

He had to overcome adversity, having lost over 10 seconds on the opening stage when a combination of cold Michelin tyres and a greasy Dunoon town centre surface saw him skid off the road. Together with co-driver Andrew Roughead, Neil then picked up a double puncture, which caused a brake line to burst and a rose joint to fail. Despite steering problems, he managed to get the car to service and completed the afternoon loop to score his best result of the season – and move up to second in the drivers’ standings after three rounds.

Steve Wood is very much in contention for this year’s Protyre Asphalt title, despite going off the road in Argyll. The Welshman has a huge amount of Irish closed road stage rallying experience and could be the one to catch this weekend. He’ll be co-driven by Dale Bowen in the mighty City East Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Stephen Simpson will have his third different co-driver in as many events when Will Atkins joins him in his CA1 Sport-run Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2. A different voice over the intercom won’t bother the experienced Manchester driver, who is consistently quick and will be after another Protyre Asphalt podium result.

Mark Kelly’s Michelin-shod Roccia/Tile Master-backed Ford Fiesta R5+ is still being repaired after a big accident in Argyll. Having already effectively dropped a score, he has hired a Škoda Fabia R5+ to maintain his title challenge. He’ll be united with his usual co-driver Neil Colman in Northern Ireland.

There is a considerable amount of experience on the start list, and none has more rally miles under his belt than Roger Moran. He started rallying in the mid-1980s and remains as fast and committed as ever – as Roger and co-driver Den Golding will prove in their Škoda Fabia R5+.

Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman made a great start in Argyll and were unlucky to slide their Ford Fiesta S2000 off the road. They hope to get back to their class B14 winning ways this time out.

Keep an eye out too for Steven Ormond-Smith in his rapid Manx Rally Sport Mitsubishi Evo 9, who arrives straight off the back on a fine class B14 win in Argyll, and class B14 Tour of Epynt winner Richard Clews in his ITG Subaru Impreza STi. They’ll be co-driven by Dafydd Evans and Carl Williamson respectively.

Brad Cole is the top-placed two-wheel drive pilot and leads both the Ford Escort Challenge and class B13 in his 2.5-litre Smith & Jones powered Hydroline Solutions Escort Mk2. Co-driven by Jamie Vaughan, an extraordinary performance last time out saw the Somerton driver pick up fourth place overall Protyre Asphalt points which puts him up sixth in the overall drivers’ standings.

Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham enjoyed a good run on the 2019 Down Rally, which was their maiden outing in Northern Ireland. They are always quick and spectacular in their red Atkinsons Sandblasting/DP Trucks/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2 – and like Cole will be out for both class B13 and Ford Escort Challenge points.

The stunning livery of Olly Hunter’s Vauxhall-engined Ford Escort Mk2 is a slight to behold. The Preston ace doesn’t worry too much about the paint job when his right foot is on the gas, so expect some fireworks from the class B11 leader.

As a teenager, Jonathan Stepney represented Wales at Olympic Skeet shooting at the mini Commonwealth Games in Gibraltar, before turning his sights on rallying. His rapid-fire performances in his 1.9-litre engined Griffiths/Gavin Griffiths Group-backed Peugeot 205 GTi has seen him win the class B12 category twice in two starts this year and, together with his co-driving stepfather Aled Davies, will be targeting a hat-trick of wins.

Johnnie Mackay leads in the Protyre Asphalt N3 class – the reigning Scottish junior champion enjoying a great season in his ISS/Kewtech Ford Fiesta ST. Co-driven this time by Martin Forrest, the Down Rally was one of the main events on the 20-year-old driver’s 2022 bucket list, and he’s not shy of pushing hard on stages he doesn’t know either. 

Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Down Rally, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders. 

Special Stage TV will be live streaming the action from the event, which will be broadcast on its Facebook page. Commentary will come from Mark James and Alistair Fisher.

Three years after it was last run, the 2022 Carryduff Forklift Down Rally, which is jointly organised by Rathfriland Motor Club and Ballynahinch and District Motor Club, returns with an exciting eight stages. Based at the Lagan Valley Island in Lisburn, the event starts at 09.30 and will contain two runs over Bucks Head (a new addition to the Down Rally and at almost nine miles the longest stage of the event), Lough Erne (5.4 miles of technical and twisty lanes with one mile of open and flowing roads), Drumaknocken (first used in 2018 with a changeable surface with a billiard table smooth section heading towards the stage finish) and Hamilton’s Folly (mountain road stage containing the famous jump), before the finish at 16.30.

Regulations and details on how to enter the 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship are available at:

Membership of the BTRDA can be done online at:

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