Six weeks separate the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship’s Killarney Rally of the Lakes and Donegal International rounds. It’s the longest gap crews enjoy over the course of the seven-round championship.
For Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble, it looked like they would head into the mid-season break on the crest of a wave. The Circuit of Ireland winners took Killarney’s follow-up by storm. They led the Rally of the Lakes overnight and withstood intense pressure from Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan on Sunday.
Then, the waves broke and Fisher’s run of strong results came crashing down. A marginal mistake had Fisher and Noble’s Volkswagen Polo R5 stranded off the road on Killarney’s final stage.
Devine flew past to inherit the win on Caragh Lake leaving Fisher to mull over what had just happened. A full field of cars was long enough to wait never mind the six-week delay to right the wrong in Donegal.
Thankfully for Fisher, he has had plenty going on outside of rallying to distract him from what could have been in Killarney. Looking back on the event, he can take an abundance of positives from the performance.
“Obviously, Killarney was disappointing after two days of a titanic battle,” reflected Fisher. “It was a very slight mistake with big consequences. We probably braked too late by a car length and washed out on a medium to slow left-hander and got stuck.
“Such is the margin at the moment there isn’t room for the finest of errors. Thankfully there wasn’t any damage which was a positive.
“I’m hopeful it won’t hinder our confidence as overall the feeling in the car is very positive which is the overriding factor for us at the moment.
“We have found a very strong pace over the last two events. That has been a result of sticking at it, knowing that the times would come as we built more and more confidence in the car and in my own feeling.
“Without doubt it’s a lot to do with building your own senses up as a driver, to extract the last from every window and this only naturally comes with time in the car.
“The Polo only ever requires small tweaks from one event to the next so that has been a gradual process with the MEM team.”
Fisher travels to Donegal 27 points behind championship leader Josh Moffett. It’s certainly no reflection of his recent speed, however, as it looks like he and Devine have closed the performance gap to ITRC’s early pacesetter.
In fact, Fisher and Devine will take encouragement from the knowledge that ITRC crews drop their two lowest-scoring rounds at the end of the season. At the moment, that would bring both drivers to within five points of Moffett.
The championship is still all to play for but wins are becoming more important and another retirement could be costly.
For now, Fisher’s focus is on Donegal. If he can continue his current rate of progress behind the wheel of his Polo, a magical maiden win in the hills would be a perfect remedy for his Rally of the Lakes setback.
“I am really looking forward to getting back on the road again,” said the 33-year-old. “We have been working to make sure all the fine details are in place for the week ahead.
“Gordon and I have been out practicing our pacenotes to get our heads in gear again as it has been a few weeks since Killarney.
“Donegal is a special event, I have been very fortunate to have had some strong results on the event over the years, going back to the Fiesta ST and the Evo 9 days and then a memorable year in the Fiesta S2000 along with another second overall in 2017 in the Fiesta R5.
“I enjoy all of the stages; they provide the drivers with good variation and they are roads that can be attacked. Nailing the likes of Atlantic Drive and High Glen is as good as it gets from a raw driving point of view.
“It is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested events in years, everyone has been plugging away and building their speed, plus the cars all appear to be well matched.
“So, without doubt, we should be in for a close battle.”
Photos by Ruaidhri Nash