The 2020 Galway International Rally will go down in history books as the rally Alastair Fisher won his first ever Irish Tarmac event. Fisher’s commanding 21.1-second victory was a fair representation of his talent and international rally driving ability.
To the seasoned rally fans who braved the elements last Sunday, Fisher’s victory came as no surprise, but having waited seven years since his last international win, his success in Galway was certainly a special one.
After winning the Scottish Rally in 2013 Fisher finished second in the Junior World Rally Championship in the same Citroen DS3 R3T the following year. A sole appearance in 2015 on the Circuit of Ireland came to a premature end on Stage 3. Although his R5 debut didn’t go to plan, Fisher’s partnership with the Ford Fiesta was to last for the next four years, broken by a sabbatical in 2018.
Fisher embarked on an Irish Tarmac Championship campaign in 2016 when the series announced R5 was to be its points-scoring category. After an intense year-long battle with Keith Cronin, which included an impressive podium on the European Rally Championship’s Circuit of Ireland, Fisher’s title bid came to an abrupt end on the fourth stage of the Cork 20 decider.
The Fermanagh driver finished ITRC runner-up in 2017 and 2019 to Sam Moffett and Craig Breen respectively. In his three ITRC campaigns since 2016 Fisher took five R5 wins and finished eight rallies in second place overall.
Then came 2020’s opening round, the Galway International Rally. Another R5 win but all-importantly a maiden Irish Tarmac rally win to light up his comprehensive rally-driving CV.
In contrast to his dominant performance during the rally, Fisher’s preparation for Galway was less assured as the 31-year-old only finalised his plans in the week leading up to the event. A test in the Volkswagen Polo R5 showed signs of promise, but it still wasn’t a done deal.
A move to the latest generation of R5 was going to require a switch from Fisher’s usual Fiesta to the unfamiliar Polo which Dom Buckley Motorsport had available. The Fiesta R5 Mk2 was off the cards. Thankfully for Fisher he found the desired feeling from the Polo and three days before Galway he confirmed he’d be crossing the Eyre Square start-ramp in a Volkswagen.
“The Polo gives good feedback,” explained Fisher before Galway. “You get a good feeling of the road which really is the main thing.
“The Fiesta was always very good at providing you a sense of what the grip was like.
“It was just a matter of finding a similar feeling to give you a positive mindset in the car.”
Seeded second, Fisher was many people’s favourite for top-ITRC points in Galway. With the majority of his rivals debuting cars, Fisher knew it was a good time to bite the bullet and try something different.
One man who needed no time to get used to his car was Garry Jennings but as word trickled through Parc Ferme that he had pulled his entry suddenly it was Fisher and co-driver Gordon Noble who would run first on the road in their Polo R5.
Despite starting the rally with a fastest stage time, Fisher wasn’t content with the performance and softened the Polo’s set-up before Stage 2.
It was a Polo R5 1-2-3 going into the second stage, Duniry, but Donagh Kelly and Meirion Evans’ pressure on Fisher was relieved on the next stage as they both encountered issues on the mucky test.
The second pass of Duniry was shortened due to worsening road conditions and ran at less than 50% of its original length. As Fisher took his fourth and final stage win, second-placed Kelly stalled at the start-line. A big push through the now 4 km stage wasn’t enough to alleviate the time loss and Kelly ended the fifth stage 29.1s behind the leader.
Fisher found himself in a position similar to those Breen had mastered in 2019. He had earned himself a comfortable gap which was managed perfectly over the remaining four stages. Downpours of rain and delayed stages wasn’t enough to distract Fisher from achieving his goal in Galway.
“It is nice to finally get over the line and take our first Tarmac win,” said Fisher. “It was a tough final stage with a lot of muck pulled out onto the road but thankfully we got through it okay.
“There were quite a few delays on the last loop of stages, so we really had to keep our focus.”
After nine traditionally tricky Galway stages, a sense of what the Fermanagh driver had achieved was gained as he embraced both of his parents at the Black Road stop-line. 21 years after his Uncle Bertie won the same rally, Alastair finally got the family name back on the winners list of an Irish Tarmac event.
“It was a relief to finally take a Tarmac win,” explained co-driver Noble. “Having been so close on many occasions recently. Alastair’s pace has always been top notch and we have enjoyed many battles in Ireland with the likes of Keith Cronin, Craig Breen, the Moffett brothers… and of course varieties of WRC while we were in R5.
“It’s a monkey off his back as expectations have been there for a long time. He is a very capable driver and person, just dogged by bits of bad luck and tough opposition. With the WRCs having a performance advantage, that’s hard to overcome by driving ability, although Alastair regularly beat such competitors.
“Alastair has the ability to switch it on from the start. On Galway we were sharp out of the box and that set the trend for the day.”
Irish rally fans will be hoping it’s the start of a special year for the championship but no matter what the year brings, Galway 2020 will always be one to remember for the Fishers and their fans alike.