Fisher feeling deflated as Evans seizes control of the Ulster Rally
Elfyn Evans climbed to the top of the leaderboard at the end of day one of the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally but it was a lot harder than he might have expected.
In fact, the former Ford World championship driver from Wales had to play second fiddle to Ulsterman Alastair Fisher for the first three of the opening six stages in treacherous conditions in the Strabane-Plumbridge area.
But a puncture on the first of the evening stages after the Ebrington service break in Londonderry changed the picture dramatically for Fisher, the Trillick driver dropping over 40 seconds and falling from first to fifth.
So Evans returned to the overnight halt in Derry in his DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 with a 4.5-second lead over the Citroen DS3 of Ireland's former British champion Keith Cronin with Jonny Greer the leading Ulster driver in a superb third in another of the DGM team's Citroens.
Scot David Bogie was fourth in his Skoda Fabia with Fisher still fifth, 43 seconds off the lead.
Joint leader of the Irish Tarmac championship going into the Ulster event, Fisher had said he didn't want to get drawn into a fight with Evans who is leading the separate British championship. His battle, he said, was with Sam Moffett and Cronin.
But with morning rain washing over the stages, spreading mud on the roads only for the sun to emerge from the clouds as the cars headed out of Derry, tyre choice was a nightmare. Wet, dry or intermediate, no one really knew.
Fisher appeared to get it right as he jumped to the top of the leaderboard on the opening stage and consolidated his position with the fastest time again on stage two to lead Evans by 10 seconds and Cronin by 11.
Evans pulled five back on stage three where Fisher reported a vibration from a rear wheel of his Fiesta but then came the puncture which dealt a huge blow to his hopes of emulating his uncle, Bertie as an Ulster winner.
He wasn't the only one in trouble, of course, the slippery conditions catching out many of the drivers in the chasing group. Sam Moffett, joint leader of the Tarmac series with Fisher, and his brother Josh were both in the wars as was Tom Cave, currently second in the British championship, the two of them slipping down towards the bottom of the top 10.
Desi Henry was another to lose ground after sliding his Skoda off the road on the first stage and Garry Jennings, a two-time winner, was acclimatising nicely to his first drive in the development Mitsubishi Mirage until he lost the brakes and went off three times.
Worse befell Sweden's Mattias Adielsson in his battle for the British junior title with Ireland's Rob Duggan. He crashed his Vauxhall Adam on the first stage, the car then being hit by a following competitor, blocking the road and bringing the stage to halt.
Top of the leaderboard (after stage 6): 1 Elfyn Evans and Craig Barry (Ford Fiesta) 49 mins 2.8 secs; 2 Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin (Citroen DS3) 49-29.3; 3 Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick (Citroen DS3) 49-59.3; 4 David Bogie and James O'Reilly (Skoda Fabia) 49-55.1; 5 Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble (Ford Fiesta) 50-07.8; 6 Fredrik Ahlin and Morten Erik Abrahamsen (Ford Fiesta) 50-19.1; 7 Sam Moffett and Karl Atkinson (Ford Fiesta) 50-25.6; 8 Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan (Skoda Fabia) 50-50.4; 9 Josh Moffett and John Rowan (Ford Fiesta) 50-55.5; 10 Marty McCormack ad David Moynihan (Skoda Fabia) 51-04.8.