Toner focused on Ulster battle rather than ITRC chances

Ahead of an Ulster Rally filled with many “ifs, buts, and maybes” – Damian Toner is keeping things simple with the sole aim of securing his third two-wheel-drive win in a row.

The 2019 Modified Irish Tarmac Rally Champion is one of several outside bets still with a mathematical chance of winnings this year’s title. Despite lying ninth in the standings going into the Ulster Rally, Toner is 24 points behind modified leader Simon Reid with 34 points to play for.

Toner and co-driver Denver Rafferty are seeded at the front of Ulster’s modified pack, 14th on the road in their Ford Escort Mk2.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the modified championship until I heard Simon Reid on the Krunching Gears podcast,” admitted Toner. “I think it would be highly unlikely unless the others drop out.

“We will focus on getting a two-wheel-drive win anyway but there are a lot of fast drivers and quick corners to get around before the finish line.

“As Denver says, ‘for every mile of road there are two miles of hedges.’”

Last year’s Ulster Rally didn’t go to plan for Toner when an off ended his challenge on Bronte Homeland, a stage set to run again this Friday. He was left frustrated by another simple off in West Cork but has regained his form with two strong results on July’s Loughgall Stages and the Down Rally.

“Hopefully I can get on the ball from the word go and get a few good times on Friday evening to give us a good position starting Saturday morning.

“I will have to drive my best to hold the other lads off but with a bit of luck and a decent drive, we shouldn’t be far away.

“I haven’t done as many rallies this year with working on cars and preparing for others. We’re hoping to get some more customers onboard this winter as well.

“But I couldn’t miss the Ulster when it’s only 30 minutes up the road.

“I have probably done bits of the stages before but I’m not a great man for remembering them.

“I know Slieve Gullion fairly well as I’ve done it a good few times in the Newry and Mourne rallies.

“It’s not as scary as some people think with it being over the side of a mountain. But it’s fairly fast and a lot of trees means it’s unforgiving if you put a wheel wrong.”

The County Armagh pilot’s immediate competition will come from his brother, Marty, who starts one car behind him on the road. Championship favourites Simon Reid and Colin Byrne follow, ahead of Camillus Bradley who completes modified’s top-five.

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Photos by Roger Dawson