It was the perfect start to the rally season for both Garry Jennings and Alastair Fisher. Jennings led from start to finish to take overall victory on the Galway International Rally last weekend, while Fisher scored maximum points in the Irish Tarmac Championship as he claimed third overall.

After years of trying to win the Galway Rally Garry finally added the trophy to his collection last year, and he was quickly back up to speed on his return to the county, posting fastest times on each of the first four stages to open up a lead of 20 seconds over his closest rival Declan Boyle. In Boyle’s pursuit of the Subaru he suffered a puncture and then pulled out of the event citing mechanical problems, leaving Garry with a commanding overnight advantage over the chasing pack.

“We were on the pace straight away and that was a bit surprising because we had done nothing in the car out on the road,” admitted Garry. “I was happy with that and we managed to build up a bit of a gap. I just had to pace myself over Sunday’s stages and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid, because that is something that can happen very handy.”

His task on Sunday was made more challenging by an overnight frost. With several early morning stages cancelled due to the icy conditions Garry had to be cautious but navigated the roads without drama. “It was tricky on Sunday because there was plenty of black ice around,” he said. “When we were first car on the road we had to be careful that there was no ice. We had to try to read the road, but we got away with it okay. The car never missed a beat and worked very well in the wet.”

Garry eventually came home one minute clear of the WRC Fiesta of Roy White to claim his second Galway crown. “I had done Galway quite a few times and never won it because it’s probably one of the trickiest rallies of the year with a variety of different conditions, so it was nice to win it twice in a row.”

Alastair Fisher has set his sights on capturing the Irish Tarmac Championship title after his near miss last year, and he made a great start by claiming the points in Galway with a R5 class win. Alastair led the series going into the final round of 2016 before he slid off the road in slippery conditions, but there was to be no repeat this time around.

“It was a good start,” he acknowledged. “The opening loop was wet and it took us the first stage to get our confidence back again after the break. The second loop was drier but the roads were greasier. That is conditions that we seem to go well in so we were able to pull some time on the other R5 cars. We managed to pull 15 or 20 seconds over the first two loops. We had a quickest time and were very close to matching Garry on a couple of other stages and we were a good 8 or 9 seconds quicker than the other R5 cars which gave us a good lead.”

By the end of day Alastair and co-driver Gordon Noble had built up a thirty second advantage. In the icy conditions on Sunday morning there was always the danger making a costly mistake, but the Trillick driver negotiated the day with any major incidents and was unconcerned that he missed out on second overall on the final stage of the rally. “We had been in positions like that before and it was about easing the pressure on ourselves and getting to the finish without any mistakes,” he said. “We had no dramas all weekend. We settled in nicely, the car worked well, the pace notes were good and everything clicked. We had a couple of stages were we pushed on and the times were good and then we were able to drive at a comfortable pace to get to the finish.”

The win puts him at the top of the early championship standings with the West Cork Rally in six weeks time the next round of the series. “It’s a good start and we head to West Cork now, but everyone is going hard so the rest of the season will still be difficult,” he said. “It’s a very different rally. It’s a lot faster with quicker cleaner roads and everyone will be quite close together because the stages are fast and open so we know we will have to be sharp.”

Jon Armstrong was competing on the event for the first time. He had been invited by M Sport to test their new R2 Ford Fiesta on the event in a bid to attract drivers to a potential one make championship in the future. The car was of a lower specification to Jon’s normal Fiesta but despite that he was able to post competitive times, eventually finishing second in class and thirteenth overall.

“We had no real issues and had a good clean rally,” said Jon.

“Conditions were slippery and that helped us with our lack of power. It is a good wee car. Good over the bumps but probably lacks a bit of power out of junctions and chicanes, so we were happy with the times compared to the rest of the R2 cars.”

Jon’s main focus for the season is two DMACK prize drives on Rally Poland and Rally Spain in an R5 car. In preparation for the World Rally Championship events he is keen to get some competitive mileage under his belt in a similar car, but has so far been unable to secure the budget to confirm a test outing. “I need to do some testing or a rally in an R5 car before Poland and Spain but it’s a lot of money to get one hired,” he revealed.

“It’s something like £100 a mile and when you are trying to do a 150 mile rally that’s a lot, and that doesn’t even include things like tyres and fuel. If you want to make that step up its very hard so I’m not sure what I’m doing next. I’ve nothing definite in place yet so we will have to try to do a bit of gathering up.”

Willie Mavitty was bidding for class success in his Mitsubishi and made a good start, moving into the lead of his category after the third stage, but his rally was ended prematurely when mechanical issues led to his withdrawal on stage six.