Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble hold a 16.9-second after the Cork 20 International Rally’s opening day of action.
The penultimate round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is crucial to the crews chasing the so-far dominant Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes. Meirion Evans and Callum Devine completed the trio of Volkswagen Polo R5s in the hunt to take points from Moffett in Cork.
It was championship leader Moffett, however, who started Cork 20 the sharpest, going fastest on Caherduggan by 0.7 seconds over Fisher. Moffett lost the lead to Fisher on the next test before winning Cork’s third stage to finish the rally’s opening loop 1.3 seconds behind the Fermanagh driver.
Moffett, Devine, and Fisher completed the 14-kilometre test within 0.7 seconds of one another – an indication of their commitment on the fast and flowing stages east of Rathcormac.
The Welsh crew of Evans and Jonathan Jackson slowly drifted away from their championship rivals, finishing day one 45 seconds off the lead in fourth position overall. Three runner-up finishes so far this year put the Polo pair second in the Irish Tarmac standings with Evans knowing he’ll head to Ulster Rally’s season finale with a slight chance of championship success regardless of his Cork result.
Meanwhile, Fisher and Devine shared a stage win apiece on Cork 20’s second loop of stages. The pace was hot in dry summer conditions and Devine’s fastest time on Stage 6 bunched the top three to within two seconds.
The 2021 Cork 20 winner was struggling with his car’s set-up at the start of Saturday. Devine hinted at understeer issues through the opening loop and his fastest time on Stage 6 came despite a strange feeling with his Polo’s brakes.
Moffett jumped ahead of Fisher on Stage 6 even though he felt distracted by the front corner of his Hyundai i20 R5’s bonnet popping into the air.
Cork 20’s already intensive lead battle took an unexpected turn as rain arrived for Saturday’s last loop of three stages.
Unaware of how hard the rain would fall, crews left the Cork Marts service area on hard slick tyres, and it didn’t take long for the drama to follow.
The flat-out Caherduggan stage was littered with shiny tar sections and barely a car would make it around one particular square-right without incident. Fifth car on the road, David Guest, was the first not to spin on the box junction.
Devine, Moffett, Fisher, and Evans all spun – Devine and Evans losing the most time due to a subsequent stall. Fisher finished the seventh stage six seconds faster than Moffett to reclaim the Cork 20 lead.
The tricky conditions continued on Saturday’s final two stages and so did Fisher’s impressive turn of pace. He won every rain-soaked stage on Cork 20’s third loop to end Saturday 16.9 and 28.5 seconds ahead of his championship rivals Moffett and Devine.
“I found a good feeling on the wet stages,” explained overnight leader Fisher. “I was trying to work the tyres to keep some heat in them and we just seemed to carry good speed.
“The overshoot caused a bit of mayhem for everyone and we had a good clean run after that.
“Today went better than expected for us because we didn’t have the stage experience from last year so it’s nice to bring a bit of a gap into tomorrow.”
Leader after stage six, Moffett, explained his final loop of the day which cost him 17.1 seconds to rival Fisher:
“Our tyres were a bit hard for the wet conditions and the car was quite nervous on them.
“We kept it safe because we don’t really have much to gain or lose on this rally.
“Obviously it would be nice to win but we weren’t for taking any chances.”
Enda O’Brien, David Guest, and Andrew Purcell completed Cork 20’s top seven with 21 seconds separating the three R5s.
Colin Byrne tops Cork 20’s modified standings after Saturday’s nine stages.
The Class 14 flyer was only fifth-fastest in two-wheel-drive on Cork’s first stage after losing his paddle-operated gear shifts. Byrne fought back, though, to get into second before inheriting the modified lead from James Stafford whose Darrian T90 suffered rear suspension damage on Stage 7.
Stafford, who led ITRC’s modified standings before the Cork 20, had a 46-second advantage over Byrne before his mechanical hardship.
Byrne now faces a final day battle with fellow Ford Escort driver and championship contender Simon Reid who is 11.3 seconds behind.
Padraig Egan is a further 29.8 seconds back in another Escort, just outside the overall top ten.
“We knuckled down to set some good times after our paddle-shift issues,” said Byrne.
“The last three stages were good craic on hard slicks in two-wheel-drive. It was a sensible drive from us with a view to maximise our championship points tomorrow.”
Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan are another crew hoping to maximise championship points this weekend. Their aim is going to plan so far as they hold a 54.6-second lead in Cork 20’s Historic section, and a one and a half minute lead over championship rivals Luke McCarthy.
Meirion Evans and Dale Furniss split the two in second while Alan Ring and Duncan Williams round out the overnight Historic top five.
Ring has been struggling with an electronic issue in his Subaru Legacy, hindering its acceleration.
Six stages lie ahead of Cork 20’s crews tomorrow. It may be three less than they faced on Saturday but both Badgers Hill and Chimneyfield are longer than any test tackled so far bringing tomorrow’s total of competitive kilometres to 115 km, the same amount as Saturday.
Cork 20 International Rally after Day 1
1 Alastair Fisher – Gordon Noble (Polo R5), 51:44.3s
2 Josh Moffett – Andy Hayes (i20 R5) +16.9s
3 Callum Devine – Noel O’Sullivan (Polo R5) +28.5
4 Meirion Evans – Jonathan Jackson (Polo R5) +45.0
5 Enda O’Brien – John Butler (Polo R5) +3:10.9
Photos by Roger Dawson and Gavin Woods