Fisher and Cronin keen to point way forward
There is nothing Alastair Fisher, Keith Cronin and co would like better than to race Elfyn Evans in the Ulster Rally which starts from Londonderry tomorrow (1pm). But dare they risk it with the Irish Tarmac championship at stake?
Evans leads the British championship with three wins out of five under his belt. He's also currently top of the standings in the World championship's second division, WRC2.
To beat him on the John Mulholland Motors-sponsored event, which counts in both of Britain's top championships, would be a huge feather in the cap of the Irish contingent. But with the Irish Tarmac title delicately poised, will they gamble?
They last went head-to-head on the Circuit of Ireland in April but the battle fizzled out when Cronin damaged his Citroen DS3 on the first stage and Evans' Ford Fiesta was sidelined with a power steering fault. Fisher swept up the points in third place behind Citroen WRC star Craig Breen and European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Evans and co-driver Craig Parry have since won two more British championship rounds to lead the series in the DMACK Fiesta and Elfyn comes to Ulster, where his father Gwyndaf won in 1989, in confident form.
"We've had a good run and will be aiming to carry that into Ulster," said the 27-year-old Welshman. "Our pace on the Circuit of Ireland was good and if we can continue that, I'd like to think we can add another Evans name to the winners' list."
Fisher and Cronin have World championship experience too, albeit at junior level where they have tussled with Evans, but their priority is Tarmac points in the penultimate round of the series. Fisher, out to emulate his uncle Bertie as Tarmac champion and Ulster winner, shares the lead with fellow Fiesta driver Sam Moffett on 54 points but Cronin is four behind - and the final round is in his home of Cork.
There are several other scenarios set to play out including the outside chances of Tom Cave, Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin and the younger Moffett brother, Josh, who has still to play his double points joker, preventing Evans from becoming British champion with a round to spare. Another Ulster driver, Desi Henry, could also continue his run of podiums.
Marty McCormack and Jonny Greer will be in the mix, too, and then there is Garry Jennings, a two-time Ulster winner who has made the switch from WRC Subaru to Mitsubishi Mirage to try an R5 car.
Rally schedule: Friday, August 19: Start Guildhall Square, Londonderry 1pm; SS1 Holly Hill1 2pm, SS2 Mary Gray1 2:58pm; SS3 Butterlope1 3:39pm; service Ebrington Square 4:50pm; SS4 Holly Hill2 6:25pm; SS5 Mary Gray2 7:23pm; SS6 Butterlope2 8:04pm; service Ebrington Square 9:02pm.
Saturday, August 20: Start Ebrington Square 7am; SS7 Slievekirk1 7:37am; service Ebrington Square 8:30am; SS8 Drumahoe1 9:36am; SS9 Barnes Gap1 10:12am; SS10 Rousky1 10:43am; service Ebrington Square 12:27pm; SS11 Slievekirk2 1:09pm; service Ebrington Square 2:02pm; SS12 Drumahoe2 3:08pm; SS13 Barnes Gap2 3:44pm; SS14 Rousky2 4:15pm.