In a year of highs and lows for local rally drivers, Alastair Fisher and Jon Armstrong had contrasting fortunes as 2016 drew to a close. Jon secured a drive in a WRC2 car for two rounds of next season’s World Rally Championship but Alastair saw his hopes of a 2016 Irish Tarmac Championship title slip away on the final event of the season.
Jon claimed the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy Rookie award, third overall in the championship and the two prize drives after victory in Spain. The Kesh driver had intended to use the season to build his experience of unfamiliar rallies, but after finishing fourth on the opener in Portugal he dominated Rally Poland to win. Mixed results mid season ended his hopes of outright success, but a strong finish to his campaign saw him seal victory number two in Spain and end the season on a high.
Alastair Fisher’s attempt to win his first Irish Tarmac Rally Championship came to a disappointing end on the final round of the series when an accident ended his Championship. Having focussed on World Championship rounds in past seasons the Trillick driver opted to concentrate on events closer to home for the 2016 campaign, and that decision almost paid dividends as he entered the final rally of the championship in Cork with a narrow advantage over rival Keith Cronin. Alastair took the lead in the rally but he slid off the road, allowing Cronin to nip ahead and take the crown.
The season started well for both Alastair and fellow Fermanagh driver Garry Jennings. Changes in the championship regulations meant Jennings’ Subaru was not eligible to score points in the series but he cast aside that disappointment to take the outright win on the season opening Galway International Rally. In the Championship battle Fisher and Cronin gave spectators a taste of what was to come for the rest of the year as they swapped seconds in thrilling battle for maximum points. Two spins from Alastair on day two proved decisive with the lost 25 seconds handing the early series lead to Cronin.
By the time the second round of the championship came around Jennings had already added another victory on the Mayo Stages Rally, but he could not maintain his winning run on the West Cork Rally, Garry having to settle for third overall on an event that was also disappointing for Alastair Fisher. He conceded further ground to Cronin after crashing out. Despite the setback Alastair responded well, claiming maximum points on three of the next four rounds. The Circuit of Ireland started his fight back, claiming third overall and first in class. Elsewhere on the rally Barry McNulty navigated Derek McGarrity to victory in the National Rally and Leroy Mills took a class win.
Another win followed for Fisher on the Killarney Rally as he moved to the top of the championship standings for the first time, but Jennings’ hopes of his second International victory of the year ended when he crashed out of first place on day two.
Jennings captured another victory on the Newry and Mourne Rally, but suffered disappointment in Donegal as he retired after the first stage with engine problems. Alastair looked as though his winning run might continue in the North West but after taking an early lead he lost time when he slid off the road and eventually had to be content with points for fifth place. He again bounced back however, taking maximum points on the Ulster Rally after finishing second overall. Jennings had switched from his Subaru to take the opportunity to help develop the Mitsubishi Mirage R5 on the rally, but his challenge ended early with mechanical problems. In contrast, Chris Armstrong continued his strong season in 2016 with a second place finish in the National event in his Ford Escort. His performances throughout the year also earned him a nomination for the Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year Award.
While there was disappointment for Alastair on the final round of the series, there was championship success for Shane McGirr. The Toyota Starlet driver put in a series of strong performances throughout the season to claim the two wheel drive title on the Irish National Forest Rally Championship.
Locally, Enniskillen Motor Club’s year was tinged with sadness as their President Keith Boyd passed away. On the stages the club’s Tuffmac Trailers Lakeland Stages Rally produced the tightest finish in the history of the event, with Sam Moffatt taking the win from his brother Josh after the pair had tied on stage times. Top local finisher was Barry McNulty who navigated Marc Donnelly to third overall, with the top all Fermanagh crew going to Jonny Leonard and Jackie Elliott in seventh. Shane McGirr claimed the two wheel drive honours.
There was a local winner of the Campbell Contracts Time Trial in July with Jonny Leonard topping the time sheets of the event that attracted almost fifty entries.