Alastair Fisher’s dream of winning the Irish Tarmac Championship is over for another year after he suffered mechanical failure on the Ulster Rally.
His retirement on stage two ended any hopes he had of overhauling series leader Sam Moffett, and he must wait for another year to claim the title that has eluded him for the past two seasons.
In contrast, the event based in the west of the province was a success story for Willie Mavitty who took a thrilling last stage Group N win to give him the lead in the battle for the Group N Irish Tarmac title with one round remaining.
The Mitsubishi driver went into the final test with a slender lead of less than a second over Gavin Kelly, and he held off his rival over the final fifteen mile stage to take top points and move into the championship lead.
Alastair Fisher went into the Ulster Rally knowing he needed a strong performance to maintain his hopes of claiming the tarmac title for the first time, having already suffered a non-finish earlier in the campaign.
Those hopes ended on stage two however when a belt came off the engine leaving him stranded at the side of the road.
“That’s the championship gone. It’s very disappointing,” admitted Alastair.
“We fought hard all year, just like we did last year, and not having a chance to challenge for the championship in Cork is disappointing. We will still go to Cork and hopefully get second in the championship.
“We have to try to get some sort of reward for the year. It was disappointing last year when we fought tooth and nail to the last round and that made us even more determined this year, but we fell short.”
“We didn’t really get a chance to get into the rally at all. On the first stage we didn’t have a perfect run but it was okay.
“It was a reasonable start and we weren’t too worried at that stage because we knew we had enough pace to get into the rally, but we never got a chance.”
Willie Mavitty was competing on the Ulster for the first time since the tragic death of friend Timmy Cathcart three years ago.
He admitted that was weighing heavily on his mind throughout the weekend, but he put in his best performance of the season to take the Group N win in a last stage shoot out.
“It was a good result but it wasn’t easy. It was tough right from the start,” said Willie, who opened up an early lead in treacherous conditions early on Friday.
“About three miles into the first stage the sky opened and it was like monsoon rain that came down. We couldn’t see out through the windscreen but we kept going and I didn’t back off too much despite not really seeing where I was going!
“It was kind of mad, but we took 23 seconds out of Gavin Kelly so we had pulled a good lead. On the next three I just controlled the pace and we matched him on those stages.”
The rain relented for the next loop of stages, but Willie struggled to regain his early rhythm and Kelly had narrowed the gap to 12 seconds by the end of the day.
The pair continued to trade seconds on day two with Kelly further reducing the deficit until there was only 0.9 seconds between the pair with the fifteen mile Rooskey stage remaining.
“I went flat out as hard as I could go and took two seconds off him,” said Willie.
“At the end of the stage he couldn’t believe our time and he said to us that he couldn’t have gone any quicker. We had one moment when we got a bit close to a telegraph pole but luckily enough we got away with it.
“It was a good rally but very tricky. It was very muddy and you couldn’t pick out the grass verge from the road in places but we didn’t put a mark on the car all weekend.”
The win gives Willie the lead in the Group N Irish Tarmac Championship and puts him in contention for the Celtic Trophy.
“It has left the championship alive for us,” he said.
“There was only half a point between us going into the round, and that win leaves me eight points ahead of him with just
“Cork to go. I think that means that if I finish second in Cork and no one gets between us I can win. I am leading the Celtic Trophy as well and it would be nice to get that if we can.”
A good result in the season finale in Cork will now give Willie the title, after what has been a roller coaster season.
“An awful lot of people have helped me this year in an awful lot of different ways and I wouldn’t have come this far if it hadn’t been for them,” he said before adding.
“We haven’t had much luck this season at times and we have needed them. We had to put a new engine in the car after Donegal because it blew up.
“In Galway we had a kill switch issue and had to do Super Rally.
“In West Cork we broke a rear drive shaft and lost a lot of time. In Killarney she blew the head gasket and in Donegal she blew the engine, so we are in a good position considering the bad luck we had. Hopefully we are moving forward now and all that is behind us,” concluded William.