Another successful Galway International Rally was celebrated at the weekend, with the top three entrants finishing within seconds of each other.
However, it was Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble who celebrated a first victory in this year's Corrib Oil rally. Having led from start to finish of this tough nine stage event, they just 20 seconds to spare over runners-up Sam Moffett and James Fulton.
It was Fisher's first time competing in a VW Polo R5, and it proved a success. Moffett, too, was also in a new car having made the switch to a Hyundai i20 R5, and he snatched second place on the final stage, pipping Donagh Kelly and Conor Foley's VW Polo by less than two seconds.
Heavy overnight rain had made conditions tricky, but all of the top runners safely negotiated the opening stage with Fisher taking an early lead at Tynagh, followed by Donagh Kelly. And Welsh driver Meirion Evans also got into the groove quickly to make it a VW Polo one-two-three after the opening test.
The second stage at Duniry was a tricky test, but this did not bother Fisher who set a stunning time to open up a lead of 18.3 seconds over Josh Moffett. Donagh Kelly, Desi Henry and Sam Moffett rounded off the top five with only 2.3 seconds separating second to fifth.
The famous Black Road rounded off the first loop at 18.8kms, with Kelly just 0.1 second quicker than Fisher to move back into second place overall.
Pat O’Connell led the national rally by 19 seconds from Jason Black, while Maurice Meskell and Noel Murphy led the historic and juniors respectively after three stages.
Heavy showers became more frequent for the next three stages, prompting several notable retirements. But not so Fisher, who took another four seconds off his rivals on the repeat of the Tynagh stage to move 22 seconds clear of Kelly.
However Henry's rally ended when the wheel studs sheared on his Hyundai which was a huge disappointment after a promising drive. Eugene Donnelly was also among the retirements when manifold problems side-lined his Proton, while David Guest, who had been lying in the top 10, slid off the road and into retirement.
The second run over the Black Road saw the chasing pack put it up to Fisher as Sam Moffett and Donagh Kelly closed the gap to just over 20 seconds again, but Joe McGonigle pulled off a wheel and Daniel Cronin stopped with mechanical problems to add to the growing retirement list.
Cathal McCourt, in seventh, had a lucky escape when he got stuck in a bank, but spectators got him out with the loss of only a minute. Pat O’Connell continued to lead the national rally from Jason Black, while local crew Tom Flaherty and Pat Curley, lying in third, were in line to take the Brian Thornton Perpetual Cup for the best Galway Motor Club crew.
In the historic rally Maurice Meskell had a strong lead of almost two minutes, the junior rally, which consisted of six stages, saw Noel Murphy edge Gareth Deazley by just 11 seconds.
The final three stages saw the weather become increasingly blustery but Fisher held his nerve to take his first international win by 21.1 seconds over Sam Moffett.
Moffett and Donagh Kelly had a terrific dice over the last three stages with the Monaghan driver taking the runner up spot by just 1.7 seconds. Evans finished in fourth place, just 11 seconds off a podium position, with Josh Moffett and Stephen Wright completing the top six places overall.
Pat O’Connell claimed the national rally despite a great drive from Jason Black who made his return to the sport after a long lay-off. Richard and James Whelan took third place and also the Brian Thornton Perpetual Cup on the final stage in their BMW 1M. Early leader Tom Flaherty lost a lot of time after getting stuck on the stage, while the Whelan brothers won the coveted trophy for top Galway MC crew for a third successive year. In the historic rally Maurice Meskell was the winner from Welsh driver Berian Richards, with John O’Reilly taking third overall.