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Fisher prepared for ‘tough’ task as Leonard returns

ALASTAIR Fisher is keeping his runner-up finish in 2017 to the front of his mind ahead of what he expects to be another ‘attritional’ Joule Donegal International Rally, which gets underway this morning.

The Trilick man expects the large WRC contingent to be the front-runners on the fast stages over three days, but should rain hit, then he hopes his R5 Ford Fiesta could become more competitive.

“The entry list is very strong and the majority of drivers have opted for a WRC car because it suits the stages because they are faster in Donegal,” he observed.

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“But we’ll still be hoping that the weather can play into our hands with some rain!

“With the WRC’s that are there, if they all finish and pace-wise the best we can hope for is top five but it’s an attritional one, so we’ll still be pushing for the podium.

“It’s three days, it’s a tough event on the car mechanically. We were second two years ago when there was a similar WRC entry, so we’ll bear that in mind!”

So far, 2019 has been as pleasing as it has been frustrating for Fisher and his Omagh co-driver Gordon Noble.

Had it not been for the form of ex-WRC Citroen driver, Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, the local duo would be out in front in the Irish Tarmac Championship, but as it stands they are sitting second.

“We’re very pleased with how this season has gone so far,” Alastair admitted.

“We’ve been nipping on Craig’s heels on three out of the four events with three second placed finishes. We were only 15 or 20 seconds behind him, so it’s very fine margins this year.

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“Any other year, though, we could be leading the thing quite comfortably so to an extent it’s marginally frustrating because we could have three Tarmac wins under our belts but it’s good competition with Craig being there and it’s bringing everyone’s level up a notch.”

Alastair and Gordon are seeded seventh for the event, with Breen second, while Kesh veteran Garry Jennings and Rory Kennedy are fifth.

Jennings hasn’t done many stage miles this year, but he still expects to be competitive in his Subaru Impreza S12: “I’ll be going to finish and to try and enjoy it. I don’t expect to be on the immediate pace, but I don’t expect to be far away at the end,” he said.

Omagh’s Seamus Leonard, assisted by Killygordon native, Paul McLaughlin, meanwhile, is targeting a top 10 finish on his return to the event after a three year break.

After aquaplaning into a wall in 2016, which resulted in just ‘hurt pride’, he will drive a 2008 WRC Ford Focus run by McGeehan Motorsport and he admits he’s desperate to get back to action.

“I have been doing to Donegal for 25 years, but I haven’t been out in three years so I’m definitely itching to get back,” he explained.

“I’ll be happy enough to get into the top 10, but there’s a fabulous entry, so that won’t be easy.”

Unfortunately, Ballygawley’s Vivian Hamill has had to pull his entry due to ongoing mechanical issues, but the remaining Tyrone contingent look set to get underway tomorrow.

They include 15th seed, Dromore’s Cathan McCourt, reigning Group N champion, Aidan Wray, Mk II Ford Escort drivers, Ryan Loughran, Frank Kelly, Ashley Dickson, Shane Cullen, William Vance and Declan Campbell.

Also competing are Declan McCrory, Niall Devine, Conor McCrossan, Alistair Glenn and Christopher Boyle, while Keelan Maguire and Jason Dickson will compete in the Junior category.

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