Next month’s Galway International Rally will boast one of the most competitive entries seen in Irish rallying for years, with a strong local contingent among the expected front runners. Past winner Garry Jennings will bring his Subaru to the event and do battle with a host of R5 drivers that will include Alastair Fisher and Jon Armstrong in R5 Fiestas. William Mavitty will also return in his Mitsubishi to contest the Group N class.

Jon Armstrong made two appearances in the World Rally Championship in 2017 but he struggled to get a budget together to compete last year and turned his attention to eSports where he became the virtual World Rally Champion. That success has opened doors for the Kesh driver, and next month he will return to real life rallying when he climbs behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5 to compete in the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Championship.

“I didn’t think I would get the chance to get behind the wheel of the R5, especially with the cost of it, but we got a good deal and managed to get things sorted,” he said. “It’s a one off. I will register for the championship and if things go well you never know, I might be able to gather up money for the rest of the championship. We will see what happens then but there is no plans for a full season at the moment.”

Jon’s day job is to help develop the new Dirt Rally game due for release next month, and he has managed to persuade his employers that his participation in Galway is the ideal way to market their new product. Having been given the opportunity, Jon is hopeful he can challenge the front runners despite his year long absence from the stages. “I will be a wee bit rusty but I’m hopefully doing a test on the Friday before the rally and I will have to waken up as soon as I can,” he said. “At least it is the first rally in everyone’s season and they are all going to be a bit rusty from the off season. It’s shaping up to be a great entry with lots of really good drivers, so it’s going to be good to show what we can do against that calibre of driver. I know once I get up to speed I can be within touching distance. The worst case scenario is that I’m a bit rusty and I will only get up to speed at the end of the day. We are just going to go as fast as we can and see how things turn out.”

Alastair Fisher is another driver who hasn’t been in competitive action for over a year, but is making his return in Galway in a Dom Buckley prepared Fiesta R5. In both 2016 and 2017 he came close to capturing the Irish Tarmac title, and he is hoping to have another crack at it this season. He knows he faces a tough task in the first round, with World Championship driver Craig Breen among a 20 strong R5 contingent.

“I’m expecting it to be a tough challenge. It’s definitely going to be interesting,” said Alastair. “Ultimately like any season we will start off trying for the championship and give it a shot. The aim is to go Galway and try to take on the first three events anyway and see how it goes after that.”

Garry Jennings will also return in his familiar Subaru as he attempts to win the event for a third time. Jennings captured the Galway title in 2016 and 2017, and with the event not running last year, another win would make it three in a row. Garry is tackling the event as a one off and has no intentions to complete the Irish Tarmac Championship, although he admits that he may return to France to tackle their national championship after his success on two events at the end of last year.

The Galway International Rally is a one day event this year, with the ten stages all being held on Sunday 10th February.