Fisher leading Irish charge to claim Pirelli prize
Published 03/05/2013 | 08:00
It is being staged in one of England's toughest rally regions but this weekend's Pirelli International is shaping up to be a battle between the Irish and the Welsh.
Based at Carlisle racecourse and using the daunting forests of the giant Kielder complex, the Pirelli Rally has become the opening round of the British championship following the cancellation of the snow-bound Rally North Wales.
The delay has only served to fire up the leading contenders for a championship which has been dominated in recent times by three-times winner Keith Cronin.
The Cork driver has moved on to the WRC2 Division in the World championship, opening the door to a new champion.
And there is no shortage of Irish drivers lining up to succeed the imperious Cronin.
Drivers like Alastair Fisher, Mark Donnelly, Desi Henry, Jonny Greer, Joe McGonigle, Brendan Cumiskey, Daniel McKenna as well as teenagers Jon Armstrong and Tim Cathcart have that goal.
Fisher is targeting the WRC2 championship and its Citroen Top Driver award along with Cronin but has admitted he would "love to become British champion" and so is planning to contest both series.
He and Cronin vied for the WRC2 lead in Portugal earlier this month but both were victims of a river Ford which drowned out their DS3 Citroens and highlighted a fault with the cars.
But the young Tyrone driver again demonstrated his pace at world level and clearly rates as one of the hot favourites for a first BRC win this weekend.
For Donnelly, also from Tyrone, it will be his first championship appearance since winning the most coveted prize in British rallying, the Pirelli Star Driver award, which sees him contest this year's series in a fully-funded DS3 run by the Carryduff-based DGM team.
He had an exploratory run out in the car on the Granite City Rally along with two other Ulster contenders, Henry and Greer, but they all lost out to one of their big Welsh rivals, Osian Pryce.
True, as Donnelly points out, it was just a 'shakedown run' but Pryce and his fellow Welshman Tom Cave represent the biggest threat to the ambitions of the Irish contingent in this year's championship.
The two-day Pirelli International begins from Carlisle on Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Loeb makes the third of his four planned appearances in this year's World championship in Rally Argentina, starting this evening.
In his absence, Sebastien Ogier and VW have dominated the series and all eyes will be on the nine-times World champion can re-assert Citroen's dominance.