Fisher’s coming up in rear-view mirror
It is the ‘young guns’ who will hold centre stage when the Irish rally season kicks off with the Galway International this weekend.
True, the outright winner will almost certainly be Gareth MacHale or Tim McNulty but the focus of attention will be on the likes of Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Jonny Greer and Craig Breen.
MacHale and McNulty are just two of a handful of drivers who remain in the big WRC supercars which have dominated Irish rallying for the past decade but their days are numbered and the sport is moving on.
One of them will surely win in Galway because their cars are quicker, more powerful, but they represent the old guard and attention is switching to a new breed of young chargers in their Group N production cars.
Fisher, is still only 21, but was third in the British and Irish championships last year, talks about it being “the beginning of a new era”.
Nephew of the late Irish rally legend Bertie Fisher, Alastair made major strides in 2009 and is looking to build on that progress as he begins a season in which he will contest both the Irish and British championships.
“After moving up from Ford Fiestas to a car like my four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Evo 9 it took time to build confidence and speed,” he says. “But in the second half of last season I felt I was starting to get on top of it and the aim is to continue that progress.
“The target for Galway is obviously to try and win Group N and finish in the top three if possible but almost important is to measure myself against Keith Cronin. He was brilliant last year, and a worthy winner of the British championship.
“Now he is the yardstick for all of us. We have to get up to his pace. But you also have people like Garry Jennings, Alan Ring, Jonny Greer and Richard Cathcart to add into the mix as well as Craig Breen with the new Super 2000 Fiesta.”
Cronin, 23, raised the bar for everyone last year when he became the first Irish driver in over 30 years to win the British championship, going on to earn himself a Pirelli-backed Subaru in which to defend his title.
But to the delight of his enthusiastic Bantry-based supporters’ club, Cronin is targeting the Tarmac series as well, initially in his own Mitsubishi before, perhaps, bringing the Subaru to Ireland. With bonus points available for the highest-finishing production cars, he is better than an outside bet for the Irish title too. The Safety Direct-sponsored Galway event starts from Oranmore on Saturday morning (8am).
Top of the Galway entry list: 1 Gareth MacHale (Ford Focus), 2 Tim McNulty (Subaru Impreza), 3 Keith Cronin (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 4 Aaron MacHale (Ford Focus), 5 Patrick Elliott (Subaru Impreza), 6 Kevin Barrett (Subaru Impreza), 7 Alastair Fisher (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 8 Garry Jennings (Mitsubishi Lancer N), 9 Craig Breen (Ford Fiesta S2000), 10 Mike Bird (Subaru Impreza).