Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble have started in Killarney’s Rally of the Lakes where they left off on the Circuit of Ireland two weeks ago.
The Volkswagen Polo R5 pairing claimed four fastest times on Killarney’s six Saturday stages. Callum Devine and Josh Moffett shared the remaining stage wins, both on the 19.9-kilometre Kilsarcon test.
It was the former who finished the day happiest out of Fisher’s two main Irish Tarmac Rally Championship rivals. Devine was only 7.7 seconds behind the Circuit of Ireland winner at the end of the Rally of the Lakes’ opening day.
Devine was the fastest out of the blocks on Killarney’s first stage of Friday. He and Moffett had opted for a softer compound of tyre than their rivals. Moffett reckoned his Michelins were starting to go off with a few kilometres remaining.
Still, Moffett was only 2.7 seconds down on Devine’s opening stage-winning pace with Fisher nestled inbetween on his hard compound Pirellis. Fisher’s harder tyres may have been the optimum choice but it did test his bravery as he got up to speed on Saturday morning.
The Fermanagh driver’s Welsh team-mate Meirion Evans had the same hard compound Pirellis on his Polo but he really struggled to get any confidence in them.
Evans was only eighth-fastest on the Kilsarcon opener, 15.7 seconds off the pace, and first victim of hard-charging modifieds James Stafford and Rob Duggan. Galway and West Cork’s runner-up was disappointed with his performance but found some positives in his pace through Saturday afternoon.
A pop-off valve issue hindered Evans’ Stage 6 time which in the end was less than six seconds off Fisher’s benchmark.
Fisher’s four stage wins came on both passes of Banard and Gortnagane. The Hyundai i20 R5 of Moffett and Andy Hayes was fastest on Stage 4 after switching to Michelin’s harder tyre for Saturday afternoon.
It was Moffett’s first time using that particular compound of rubber and he slipped further away from the Rally of the Lakes leader on the final stage of the opening day.
It is the first time this year Irish rally fans have witnessed Moffett struggle to set the benchmark. Instead, it is Fisher who has found his form and confidence in the package around him.
“We had a bit of a slowish start on the first stage,” summarised Rally of the Lakes’ overnight leader, “but it was the first time we had run the harder compound tyres.
“Thankfully we found a good feeling on the second and third stages of the loop. It has been close between everybody, they are all pushing hard, and there are only split seconds between the stage times.
“Tomorrow is a big day, we are into the classic stages, and there is plenty of driving in them.”
Moll’s Gap is up first thing tomorrow for the Irish Tarmac contenders.
With the contrasting narrow twists and turns of Ballaghbeama quickly following, it could very well be a decisive loop of stages in this year’s rapid Rally of the Lakes – a rally that so far looks to be tightening the top of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship even further.
Rob Duggan and Ger Conway have so far lived up to pre-event expectations as they lead the Rally of the Lakes’ national field into Sunday’s eight stages.
Duggan’s only major time-loss came on Stage 2. The Kerryman reckoned he had punctured a tyre after clipping a rock through the test.
Fellow Kerry ace Colin O’Donoghue had to avoid a rock sitting in his driving line on the same stage, giving him the fright of his life. Unfortunately worse was to come for the Ford Escort Mk2 man when he rolled into retirement on Stage 4.
O’Donoghue had been within Class 14’s top five before his stage-ending crash unfolded.
With Gary Kiernan, Daniel McKenna, and James Stafford all retiring on Saturday; Kevin Eves and Chris Melly remain Duggan’s sole modified challengers.
Eves had been less than four seconds behind Duggan before he received a slower than expected notional time after stopping at O’Donoghue’s accident.
The Toyota Corolla driver is hopeful he’ll receive Duggan’s stage time instead which would leave him less than 10 seconds behind his rival with eight enduring stages left tomorrow.
Both Eves and Duggan are comfortably within the Rally of the Lakes top ten, Duggan is less than two minutes off the overall lead.
Rally of the Lakes after Stage 6/14:
1 Alastair Fisher – Gordon Noble 52:43.1s
2 Callum Devine – Noel O’Sullivan +7.7s
3 Josh Moffett – Andy Hayes +15.2
4 Jonny Greer – Niall Burns +37.7
5 Meirion Evans – Jonathan Jackson +48.5
Photos by Adam Hall and David Harrigan