Belfast Telegraph

Fisher heads to Circuit as a winner

By Sammy Hamill

Alastair Fisher goes into Circuit of Ireland Rally week buoyed by his World Championship Academy victory in Portugal.

In a rally hit by torrential rain and flooded river crossings, the 23-year-old Trillick driver stayed clear of trouble to guide his R2 Ford Fiesta to a 40 seconds victory over Australian Brendan Reeves on the opening round of the lucrative Academy series.

“The conditions on Friday were very tough, unbelievable really, but I felt I coped with them,” said Fisher, who is aiming to emulate fellow Irishman Craig Breen who won the €500,000 Academy prize last season. “I tried to be smooth and consistent all the time and it worked. It’s a very positive start but I’m under no illusion, it’s going to be a very tough year.”

Breen has moved on to contest the World S2000 championship but his hopes of increasing his lead in the series were drowned in a flooded river crossing.

Water damaged the engine of his Ford Fiesta and he was forced to retire, allowing New Zealander Haydon Paddon to narrow the gap at the top of the standings.

Fisher and Breen have now returned home to focus on the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland which begins in Belfast on Friday.

Both will switch cars, Fisher to an S2000 Ford Fiesta which will be run for him by M-Sport, Ford’s World championship team, and Breen to a Peugeot 207 supplied by the French Sainteloc team. They are scheduled to test the cars tomorrow in Co Monaghan.

Ford, meanwhile, were still licking their wounds after throwing away a potential one-two finish in the Portuguese round. Jari-Matti Latvala and Patter Solberg were first and second after World champion Sebastien Loeb crashed out – then they crashed too.

Worse, still, the driver Ford allowed to leave at the end of last season, Mikko Hirvonen, won for his new Citroen team. Solberg and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson recovered to finish fourth behind the privateer Fords of Mads Ostberg and Evgeniy Novikov.

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