Fisher determined to crank up the heat in battle for Irish Tarmac title
A year ago, Elfyn Evans won the Ulster Rally and with it the British Championship. Little more than a minute behind him after two days of intense competition was Alastair Fisher, who lost most of the deficit due to a mysterious puncture.
Today, as Fisher (below) prepares for the start of the 2017 Ulster event in Londonderry, Evans is in Germany where he is battling with the likes of Sebastien Ogier and Kris Meeke for World Championship points.
And after an impressive second place on the previous round, Rally Finland, the Welshman is said to be the subject of a tug-of-war between his current Ford team and Toyota for his services next season.
Such are the vagaries and tiny margins of rallying that can define careers.
For a time Fisher did chase the WRC dream and came close to winning the Academy and Junior titles, notably in 2014 when punctures in the Finnish and German rounds cost him dear, and Stephane Lefebvre, now Meeke's Citroen team-mate, took the Junior title. That, he says, was the "make or break point".
Afterwards, Fisher scaled back his rally commitments, focusing on his career as a civil engineer with Fisher Engineering - now Severfield - the company famously led by his uncle Bertie, a three-time Ulster Rally winner and four-time Irish Tarmac Championship winner.
Fisher was runner-up in the Irish series to Keith Cronin last season, only losing out on the last round down in Cork, Cronin territory, and Fisher is in second place again, eight points behind Sam Moffett going into this weekend's penultimate event in the series.
From Trillick in Co. Tyrone, this is Fisher's home round, and he knows he must make the most of it, but regrets the lack of seat time he has had since winning in Donegal in June.
"It is two months since Donegal and this will be just my sixth rally of the season, whereas Sam seems to be out nearly every week, what with the Tarmac rounds, winning the Irish National title and looking like he could win the forest series as well. He's right on it these days," acknowledged Fisher.
"The more time you are in the car the better but it is what it is and I have to make the best of it.
"I beat him in Galway and Donegal and the aim is to do it again in Ulster and take it to the final round," added Fisher, who was re-acquainted with his Modern Tyres R5 Ford Fiesta and co-driver Gordon Noble for a pre-event test session with the Dom Buckley Motorsport team yesterday.
Complicating the situation is the appearance of the British Championship contenders, including Cronin, on the John Mulholland Motors-sponsored event. Led by Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin and Welshman Osian Pryce, they won't affect the Tarmac points situation but there is pride at stake.
Fisher, of course, wants to emulate his uncle and win the rally, but is wary of getting involved in a battle with the British title contenders who include fellow Ulstermen Marty McCormack, Desi Henry and Jonny Greer as well as Irish ace Cronin.
"I'll see how the pace compares for the first few stages and take it from there," he said. "It usually works itself out one way or the other. But the priority is Tarmac points and I don't want to come to the end of the year regretting missing out on the Championship by getting involved in a fight I don't need to win."
The rally starts from Derry's Guildhall at lunch time tomorrow for 14 special stages, mainly in the Sperrins region, with the service park located at Ebrington Square. There are also re-groups throughout the two days in Strabane and Derry city centre.