Alastair Fisher set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Keith Cronin on the final round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship after claiming maximum points on last weekend’s John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally.
The Trillick driver finished second overall to move into the lead of the series with just one round remaining, but with bonus points available on the final round it means a Cronin victory in his home county would see him pip Alastair to the title.
“It’s winner takes all in Cork now,” said Alistair. “It is going to be a difficult event. Keith did it last year, but I’m not sure whether the stages are the same or not. 2010 was the last time I did Cork. We are going to have to beat him but it won’t be easy beating a three time British Rally Champion in Cork!”
Alastair came into last weekend’s rally knowing he needed a strong finish to maintain his title challenge and he made a great start when he set a stunning time on the first stage of the rally, opening up a nine second gap to Keith Cronin. The event was a counting round of the British Championship as well as the Irish Championship and attracted a high quality entry, with former WRC driver Elfin Evans among the favourites for victory. Despite his presence Alastair was setting the early pace and reached the first service after three stages in the outright lead of the rally, but on treacherous stages problems were just around the corner.
“We had a really good run on the first stage and to be honest I wasn’t expecting the time to be as good as it was, but it was a very good start,” said Alastair. “We had a small problem on the second stage. We clipped a bank and put the back left wheel a bit out of line but it didn’t slow us much and we went into the first service still in the lead. Then we got a puncture half way through stage four. I don’t recall hitting anything. We just seem to pick it up. We had to drive on a bare rim for five miles. We lost the best part of a minute on that stage and that dropped us down to fifth.”
With Evans not registered for the Irish series Cronin was content to hold onto second overall which would have been good enough to give the lead in the championship. Alastair had set his sights on climbing back up the leader board and keeping the pressure on his Citroen rival, and his efforts were rewarded when Cronin hit mechanical trouble on the final day.
“On Saturday we knew the stages were going to be very tricky,” said Alastair. “We needed to get back up to at least second place points in the championship. We settled in and tried to find a good pace and thankfully we clawed our way back up to third overall. Then Keith had some gearbox issues which he had to fix and he dropped some time coming out of service, and that got us back up into second overall and top points in the Irish Tarmac Championship. It was a very tough event but we were very happy with how it finished.”
The final round of the championship is the Cork 20 Rally and will take place over the first weekend in October.
Garry Jennings had switched his familiar Subaru for an R5 Mitsubishi Mirage for the rally, but despite the change of machinery he was quickly into the lead of his class from the first stage. The Mirage is a new sight on Irish tarmac roads and the main aim of the rally was to develop the car for future events, but Garry was throwing it around in familiar style until mechanical problems intervened. A braking issue towards the end of the first day saw Garry slide off the road, but although the time loss was minimal the car was then beset by more serious problems with the turbo.
After finishing the first day of the rally leading the National section of the event, he was unable to return to action for day two as his debut in the Mitsubishi came to a premature end.
His demise elevated Chris Armstrong to second overall in the National Rally, with the former Brookeborough resident sliding his way around in the difficult conditions to challenge for the lead.
Only the much more powerful Mini WRC of Alan Carmichel headed Chris’s Escort, but with the finish line in sight a broken axle link bar spelt the end of his challenge.