Fisher wins Galway rally


BERTIE FISHER and Rory Kennedy firmly established themselves and the Subaru Impreza 555 Turbo as the dominant force in Irish rallying with a convincing victory over James Cullen and Ellen Morgan in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth in the two-day Statoil Galway International Rally.

Despite mostly very wet and windy weather, record crowds turned out to watch some thrilling rallying over 16 stages.

Fisher was the pacesetter after the second stage, and after day one held a 16-second advantage over Cullen. Yesterday Fisher consolidated his lead to win his first Galway International.

The retirement of Frank Meagher and Austin McHale was a disappointment, but Liam O'Callaghan drove his new Toyota Celica GT4 to finish a fine third just one second in front of Eamonn Boland in an Escort Cosworth. Stephen Murphy, the RIAC/Coras Vard National champion, was fifth in another Escort Cosworth. The Group N award went to sixth-placed Trevor Cathers in a Subaru Impreza.

Best Galway crew were Martin Ward and Linda Conroy of Loughrea, ninth overall in an Escort Cosworth.

Meagher was fastest over the first stage at Boleybeg in the Loughrea area, timed at six minutes 13 seconds over the nine miles, but just two seconds slower was Cullen. Fisher had a spin but was third fastest behind the two Escort Cosworths on 6:18.

O'Callaghan also spun and was well down on 6:36, behind fellow Toyota drivers Austin McHale and Andrew Nesbill on 6:21 each.

Over the second stage at Hillswood, Fisher was in devastating form, covering the 11.2 miles in 9:14; Cullen's time was 9:27; Meagher dropped back on 9:31. Fisher was again fastest on 553 at Beech Hill, the only one to break 11 minutes, with a time of 10:57, as compared to Cullen on 11:00 and Meagher on 11:09.

Into the first service in Loughrea it was obvious that Meagher was not at the races, and the only real threat to Fisher was Cullen. The same three stages were used twice again, but the rain came down in torrents for the last three runs making conditions atrocious.

Cullen closed dramatically to within 21 seconds of Fisher on 556, narrowing the gap by seven seconds thanks to Meagher, who slowed on the stage due to turbo trouble and inadvertently held up the following Fisher.

Fisher said "it got dangerous towards the end, standing water everywhere, and aquaplaning through the floods. At one point on the last stage I blinded myself with my own spotlights, braked too early, put the power on and the front of the car ended up in a ditch in a lane".

Fisher was able to reverse back onto the stage, but less fortunate was Andrew Nesbitt. He had been posting sensational times until he slid off the road on 556, his Toyota Celica GT4 too badly damaged to continue. Kenny McKinstry's Escort RS2000 suffered drive shaft failure which sidelined him on 557.

Austin McHale was sixth, his Celica running on only three cylinders due to malfunction of the fuel metering system.