Belfast Telegraph

Circuit of Ireland: Alastair Fisher can emulate his uncle Bertie's glory

By Sammy Hamill

The family name is already on the Circuit of Ireland Rally's imposing winners' trophy three times and now Alastair Fisher has designs of adding to that tally.

Nephew of the late Irish rally record holder Bertie Fisher, who won in 1995, '97 and '99 before he died in an horrific helicopter crash which also killed son Mark and daughter Emma, Alastair returns to the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit after a three-year gap.

His last appearance was in 2012 in the Intercontinental Challenger version of the rally when, after a promising start, he crashed out of fourth place early on the second leg, damaging the steering and suspension of his S2000 Ford Fiesta.

Since then Alastair, a civil engineer like his uncle Bertie and cousin Mark, has made occasional appearances on Irish rallies, concentrating instead on the World championship's Junior divisions in a two-wheel-drive car, a DS3 Citroen R3.

He scored JWRC victories in Portugal, France and Great Britain, finishing a strong second to Citroen's rising French star Stephane Lefebvre last season. He also used it in British championship events, winning the Scottish Rally in 2013.

It has meant the Circuit of Ireland hasn't been on his agenda for a while. But after three years on the road he is taking stock and deciding what to do next.

"I have no specific plans for this season, maybe a WRC2 event or two but nothing definite. Basically I'm concentrating on work," explained Alastair, who will be teamed in a Ford Fiesta R5 with experienced co-driver Gordon Noble.

"But there is a strong entry for the Circuit and I felt it was a good opportunity to compare myself with the leading drivers in the European championship and see if I can put the experience I've gained in the World championship to good use.

"But it has been a while since I've been in a four-wheel-drive car whereas people like Craig Breen, Kajto (Kajetan Kajetanowicz), Alexey Lukyanuk and Robert Consani have been driving them week in, week out. Hopefully, it won't take too long to adjust."

Fisher got on board the Dom Buckley team's Fiesta for the first time on Monday and described the test session as "useful" despite the constantly changing conditions.

But rain this weekend won't bother him. It is worth remembering that in 2010 the Fisher name appeared at the top of the leaderboard after the first leg of the Circuit, a young Alastair leading in his production Mitsubishi.

"It stopped raining after the first day," he says ruefully. In the drier conditions his Mitsubishi was out-gunned by the more powerful WRC cars of Derek McGarrity and Gareth MacHale and he had to settle for third.

That shouldn't be a problem this time. The R5 Fiesta has winning potential and in the hands of Fisher should be figuring high on the leaderboard when the rally gets under way tomorrow morning.

"I'd like to think I could be challenging at the front but I'm under no illusions. There are at least seven or eight drivers who could win this rally and it could come down to who stays out of trouble or who gets a break," he said.

"Craig Breen is most people's favourite but I think it is too close to call. We'll see…"

Breen is certainly a major threat to Fisher's hopes of following in the footsteps of his uncle Bertie.

The former World S2000 champion from Waterford has made it clear he desperately wants to win the Circuit, not just to enhance his European championship title bid with the Peugeot Academy team but to emulate his hero, Frank Meagher, who won in 1992.

"I've got a big thing for the Circuit of Ireland," said Breen. "It's always been a dream of mine to follow my hero."

Breen is currently joint second with Frenchman Consani in the ERC standings, the two of them five points behind leader Kajetanowicz, but he comes into the rally on the back of victory in the previous round in Latvia.

But he, too, knows ambition and determination may not be enough - not after the disappointment of last year when his T16 Peugeot was sidelined with overheating problems.

And the likes of Kajetanowicz and Breen's new Peugeot team-mate Charles Martin represent unknown factors on wet, bumpy Irish tarmac.

And even Breen will be wary of the other Irish challengers like Robert Barrable, who was third last year, the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, Marty McCormack, Jonny Greer and Stephen Wright.

It promises to be quite a fight and one in which the Fisher name should figure like so often in the past.

Top of the International entry list: 1 Craig Breen and Scott Martin (R5 Peugeot 208); 2 Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Jaroslaw Baran (R5 Ford Fiesta); 3 Robert Consani and Maxime Vilmot (R5 Citroen DS); 4 Alexey Lukanyuk and Yevhen Chervonenk (R5 Ford Fiesta); 5 Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble (R5 Ford Fiesta); 6 Robert Barrable and Damien Connolly (R5 Ford Fiesta); 7 Sam Moffett and Karl Atkinson (RRC Ford Fiesta); 8 Charles Martin and Thierry Salva (R5 Peugeot 208); 9 Jaromir Tarabus and Daniel Trunkat (S2000 Skoda Fabia); 10 Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton (R5 Ford Fiesta); 11 Martin McCormack and James O'Reilly (S2000 Skoda Fabia); 12 Josh Moffett and John Rowan (RRC Ford Fiesta); 14 Stephen Wright and Mikie Galvin (R5 Ford Fiesta); 15 Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick (R5 Citroen DS3); 16 Antonin Tlustak and Ladislav Kucera (S2000 Skoda Fabia); 17 Joe McGonigle and Ciaran Geaney (S2000 Skoda Fabia); 18 Raul Jeets and Andrus Toom (R5 Ford Fiesta); 19 Giacomo Costernero and Pietro Ometta (S2000 Peugeot 207); 20 Vojtech Stajf and Frantisek Rajnoha (Subaru STi).

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