Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Fisher Country can spur Alastair to Rally NI title

Closing in: Alistair Fisher just five points off the lead in the British Championship International Rally ace Alastair Fisher

Two Cork men, Billy Coleman and Keith Cronin, have done it but no Ulster driver has ever won the British rally championship.

It was beyond the reach of even Ulster's most decorated driver, the late Bertie Fisher.

But as the championship descends on Fisher Country this weekend, the title could be within reach of the Irish record-breaker's nephew, Alastair.

He will be on home ground as Rally NI, the British championship division of the Todds Leap Ulster Rally, starts from Enniskillen this afternoon for two days of action in the Fermanagh/Tyrone region.

A construction engineer like his uncle Bertie, 24-year-old Fisher lies second, just five points behind Finnish leader Jukka Korhonen, as the series reaches the halfway point.

Ironically, if Fisher's season had gone to plan he wouldn't be in Fermanagh this weekend. He would be chasing his No.1 target for the season, the World championship WRC3 two-wheel-drive category, and would be in Germany competing alongside reigning British champion Cronin.

But despite leading two of the previous three WRC3 rounds, he wasn't able to translate speed into results and, sparked by a first BRC victory on the Scottish Rally in June, has turned his attention to the British title race.

"I would love to be British champion although it wasn't my No.1 target at the start of the season," he explains.

"But after crashing out of the lead in Finland earlier this month we knew the WRC3 division and the Citroen Top Driver series was out of reach and the decision was taken to concentrate on the BRC.

"The fact that the championship has come to Fermanagh and some of the stages are quite local to me is a bonus although it does bring a bit of added pressure to do well."

Fisher heads up a strong home challenge which includes his DGM Citroen team-mates Jonny Greer and Mark Donnelly as well as Desi Henry, Daniel McKenna and teenagers Jon Armstrong and Timothy Cathcart. Add in Welshmen Tom Cave and Osian Pryce plus Scot John MacCrone and it is a formidable line-up.

But Fisher's attention will be focused mainly on Korhonen, the Finn who won the first two rounds including the all-tarmac Jim Clark Rally, a surface on which Finns don't traditionally excel. However, Korhonen proved he's a real all-rounder by leading from start to finish and even held off a late charge from Fisher who then turned the tables by winning the forest-based Scottish Rally.

They could be set for another epic battle this weekend, a battle which is likely to have a major bearing on the British title race and could define Fisher's season.

"It would be very special to win this weekend especially as the Fisher Foundation, which was set up in memory of Bertie and my cousins Mark and Emma, supports the Marshalls' Club in terms of providing safety units and competitor tracking.

"It's good that the family name is still involved with the sport," added Alastair.

However, should he win, Fisher's name will not follow that of his uncle Bertie onto the Ulster Rally roll of honour but the Rally NI list instead.

The overall winner will come from the Irish Tarmac championship contenders in their WRC supercars with Garry Jennings the favourite in a line-up that features Sam Moffett, Derek McGarrity, Donagh Kelly and Declan Boyle.

Top of the Rally NI entry list: 1 Jukka Korhonen/Marko Salminen (Citroen DS3), 2 Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble (Citroen DS3), 3 Tom Cave/Ieuan Thomas (Citroen DS3), 4 Jonny Greer/Jonny Hart (Citroen DS3), 5 Mark Donnelly/Dai Roberts (Citroen DS3), 6 John MacCrone/Phil Pugh (Citroen DS3); 7 Osian Pryce/Dale Furniss (Citroën DS3); 8 Desi Henry/David Moynihan (Citroën DS3); 9 Callum Black/James Morgan (Citroën DS3), 10 Joseph McGonigle/Ciaran Geaney (Renault Clio).

Five to watch out for in the NI Rally

Tom Cave

R3 CITROEN DS3T

He's still only 21 but with a wealth of experience having started competing in Latvia when he was 15. From Aberdovey in Wales, Cave also drives an R3 Citroen DS3T and is third in the BRC series, three points behind Fisher. Won the Bulldog Rally last year and made a stunning international debut with the Proton team by winning the Rally of Thailand.

Alistair Fisher

DGM R3 CITROEN DS3T

THE 24-year-old from Trillick in Co Tyrone, Fisher is second in the British series following a superb first international win on the Scottish Rally in June. Has been one of the front-runners in World championship WRC3 division but has now turned his attention to the BRC series, driving an R3 Citroen DS3T for the local DGM team.

Jukka Korhonen

R3 Citroen ds3t

The 29-year-old Finn has taken this year's British championship by storm, winning the first two rounds in an R3 Citroen DS3T run by the Autosport Technology team which won the title with Keith Cronin last year. A former Pirelli Star Driver award winner, this will be his second appearance in Ulster with Korhonen looking to show some Scandinavian flair.

Sam Moffett

McKINSTRY MOTORSPORT SUBARU S14

THE reigning Irish production champion, Moffatt has stepped up to the top level this year in a McKinstry Motorsport WRC Subaru S14, winning the Monaghan Rally and becoming the youngest winner of the Donegal International in June. From across the border in Clontibret, Moffett is joint second with Donagh Kelly in the Tarmac series.

Garry Jennings

WRC SUBARU IMPREZA S12

Runner-up to Darren Gass last year, the Kesh driver goes into the Ulster Rally as leader of the Irish Tarmac championship in his WRC Subaru Impreza S12. He won the Rally of the Lakes and was denied a second Donegal International win when hit with contentious road penalties. Bounced back by winning the Lurgan Park Rally two weeks ago.

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