Alastair Fisher returned to the stages after a year’s absence to finish second on the Galway International Rally. The Trillick driver was pipped to the top spot by World Championship regular Craig Breen, but with Breen unsure if he will contest the entire series Alastair is in good shape as he chases his first Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title.

In a dramatic opening to the Championship the overall lead of the rally changed after each of the first five stages, with both Fisher and Garry Jennings briefly holding the top spot before eventually having to give second best to Breen. For Jennings it was a frustrating event, as he was embroiled in a close battle for the lead before a seemingly innocuous spin left him stranded in a ditch.

Jon Armstrong came into the event as something of an unknown quantity having not competed for almost two years, but after a cautious opening stage he posted several top three times on his way to fourth overall.

William Mavitty made a solid start in his attempt to win the Group N title for the third time in succession, winning his class after a strong final stage saw him leapfrog rival Andrew Burke.

Galway had attracted a quality entry not seen in Ireland for many years, and in treacherous conditions it was the Subaru of Garry Jennings who topped the timesheets after the first stage. Fisher made it a local one two, with Jon Armstrong taking his time to settle in with a time that placed him tenth overall. Jennings suffered from a gearbox problem on stage two and slipped to third, before regaining the lead on the final stage of the opening loop. Alastair hit the front on stage two but suffered a spin on stage three that dropped him to third. Jon Armstrong was starting to grow accustomed to his Fiesta and he posted third fastest times on stage three and four to move up to fifth.

Jennings and Craig Breen were alternating positions at the top of the leaderboard but the Kesh driver’s rally ended on stage five. Garry slid wide on a right hand bend, with the Subaru spinning at slow speed into the ditch, where he became beached. Breen held on to his advantage at the front, with Alastair settling for second overall, 14 seconds behind the former Citroen WRC driver.

“It was maybe the best entry in Ireland for ten years so we definitely would have taken second when we were on the start ramp,” admitted Alastair.

“We settled in well and everything worked and we felt comfortable. After that the times came and thankfully we had no major issues and things flowed from the word go. Conditions were difficult so confidence was important, and we had confidence in the car and the package we had. A spin on stage three cost us 8 or 10 seconds and gave Craig a bit of breathing space. He was just under ten in the lead then. It would have been better to keep him a bit closer but as the day went on we realised we weren’t going to catch him on stage times unless we took a lot of risks. We were happy to settle with where we are at.”

Jon Armstrong has been in the limelight recently for winning the eSport World Rally Championship, but he switched back from virtual rallying to the real thing for Galway, and after a steady start he soon got to grips with his DIRT 2.0 sponsored Fiesta. He quickly moved from tenth to fifth, and after the demise of Jennings he moved into fourth, a position he held until the finish.

“We picked up the confidence after the first loop of three stages,” he said. “It was wet and damp and we couldn’t get confidence on the braking and initial turn in, but we made some adjustments at the first service and that seemed to help a lot,” he explained.

“The conditions didn’t make it any easier but I think we mastered them eventually. We maybe could have had a better set up for those conditions because I had never really driven in those conditions in a four wheel drive car. It can’t have been too bad because we weren’t too far away. We were getting close to the front boys and we were happy with fourth. We couldn’t really have asked for much more. It was good to get back out, and hopefully we can challenge for the higher places next time out.”

Jon is now hoping that he can put together a financial package to compete in further events this season, but he admits that at present he is unsure of what the future holds.

“I will have to go and see if I can get any more money,” he said. “I think the sponsors were really happy but they will have to figure out how good it was number wise and how much hits and publicity and views they got on social media. We will assess all that and hopefully they will be impressed with the numbers.”

Willie Mavitty was back in his familiar Mitsubishi as he chased a third Group N title, and he made the perfect start by taking maximum points. He survived a puncture on stage five that cost him three minutes, battling back to take the class win on the final stage. “I had a great weekend,” he admitted. “I really enjoy Galway and I was setting really good times, consistently top 15 times. I was comfortable in the car and we had a good set up and tyre choice. I put a huge effort into the last stage. Burke was 4.5 seconds up on us going into that stage and I pulled 20 seconds out of him to get in front.”

Fermanagh co-driver Barry McNulty was sitting alongside Cathan McCourt for the event, and the pair had moved into the top ten overall, setting third fastest time on stage seven. Their event came to a premature end on the last corner of the following stage however when they slid off.