'I want to do the name proud' - Fisher on Bertie's legacy and title dreams

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI
Alastair Fisher
Navigator Gordon Noble celebrates with Alastair Fisher after winning the Galway International Rally

Schumacher. Dunlop. Andretti. Hill. Earnhardt. Fisher. There's a certain pressure about being related to a big racing name.

While the Fisher name may not hold the global attention of some in the motorsport community, make no doubt about it, Bertie Fisher is regarded as rallying royalty right across Ireland.

Bertie tragically lost his life, along with son Mark and daughter Emma, in a helicopter accident in 2001, but the famous Fisher name lives on through Alastair, who as it goes, is also pretty handy behind the wheel of a car.

The Northern Irishman was once a hot prospect on the world stage, finishing third in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2013, before switching his attention closer to home.

Now racing across Ireland, Fisher, 31, emulated his late uncle by winning the Galway international Rally in January, and he now has his sights set on the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title, an honour which Bertie won four times.

Bertie Fisher
Irish rallying legend Bertie Fisher won the Circuit of Ireland three times

With the inevitable pressure and expectation attached to being from such a prestigious racing family, how did Fisher cope as he began to rise through the ranks and onto the world stage?

"When I was starting out, I was that bit younger and I maybe did feel the pressure that bit more," admitted Fisher.

"It was a bit of a focus, but once you start getting results you start to have more belief in your own ability and what you can achieve.

"It is always in the back of your head, that you are always trying to do the best you can for the name and you want to do it proud."

Gordon Noble and Alastair Fisher
Gordon Noble has been Alastair Fisher's co-driver since 2013

Bertie triumphed at the Galway International Rally twice, in 1996 and 1999, and Fisher says it was "a really special feeling" to follow in his uncle's footsteps.

"Galway is an event that I have always gone well at in the past and the trophy has pride of place on the mantlepiece at home," added the Ballinamallard driver.

"Anyone who comes into the house I am showing them uncle Bertie's name on the trophy.

"It is a really nice feeling, especially with the connections to our family.

"I had a lot of people bringing up old memories and talking about Bertie, so it was definitely special."

Galway win 'a relief'

Fisher's victory in the Irish Tarmac opener wasn't necessarily a surprise, but the fact it was his first international rally victory did raise some eyebrows around the service park considering the Fermanagh native has been running at the sharp end of the series for nearly four years.

"It was hard to believe it took that long to get it," admitted Fisher. "It was actually a bit frustrating so to finally get that win was a bit of a relief.

"I think we had 10 second-place finishes prior to the win, so it felt like we were the bridesmaids a bit.

"There was satisfaction of getting one in the bag and hopefully there will be a few more."

Alastair Fisher
Fisher and co-driver Gordon Noble switched to a Volkswagen Polo after five years in a Ford Fiesta

There was extra fulfilment in Fisher's victory in that he claimed it driving a Volkswagen Polo, switching to a brand new car after several years in a Ford Fiesta.

"It was quite a challenge at the start. I probably did 60 or 70km testing and there was a good feeling in the car, but we had to make quite a few adjustments to get it to our liking.

"It was a challenge and it does take a different driving style but thankfully we adjusted okay.

"It's about trusting the grip will be there when you want it, and you have to be more aggressive with it and push that wee bit harder to get the best out of it.

"The car gave us confidence in pretty changeable conditions and that's the biggest compliment you can pay it."

Breen 'a thorn in my side'

Fisher will be back in action at the West Cork Rally on 14 March, which will incorporate a round of the British Rally Championship alongside the Irish Tarmac runners.

On top of the talent from the British series, reigning Irish Tarmac champion and World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen will return for a one-off appearance to defend his victory in West Cork.

"We're really looking forward to getting back out there again and it is going to be a big weekend for Irish rallying," Fisher said ahead of this weekend's event.

"Everyone ups their game with Craig coming back, and that will be an added challenge.

"All the drivers would probably agree that he brings our pace up another level and there is a lot to be said for that."

Craig Breen and Alastair FIsher
Fisher (right) was third behind Craig Breen at the 2016 Circuit of Ireland

While Breen is considered a 'full-time' rally driver thanks to his exploits in the WRC, Fisher combines his time in the car with his day job as a contracts manager for an engineering company.

Fisher finished second behind Breen on three occasions last season in the Irish series, but says the gap between the pair was reducing as the season progressed.

"I always know it is more of a challenge because of his experience. He is living and breathing rallying every day," added Fisher.

"I believe in my own ability, and if you can get off to a clean start and stay in the fight, keep Craig under a bit of pressure then anything can happen.

"After the first five rallies, someone posted a stat that, on average, we were two seconds a stage slower than Craig. Obviously there are some variables thrown in there, but as the season progressed everyone upped their pace.

"By the end of the year our pace had jumped closer to Craig than anyone else's which was a good positive to take."

I do think 'what if?'

Fisher's rivalry with Breen dates back a lot longer than last season's Irish Tarmac campaign, with the pair going head to head in the Junior World Rally Championship along with current Toyota WRC driver Elfyn Evans back in 2012 and 2013.

"Without a doubt, there were things that happened, especially in the year where me and Elfyn went head-to-head for the Junior World Rally Championship, where I got a puncture and had mechanical issues just at the wrong time," reflected Fisher.

"They got the breaks and that is the way it has worked out. You can't hold anything against them.

Alastair Fisher
Making a splash: Fisher is one of the favourites for this year's Irish Tarmac title

"There are times that you question it and think 'what if?', but that's just the way motorsport, and sport in general goes.

"If the opportunity ever comes back to maybe compete at R5 level in the WRC, I definitely wouldn't be turning it down.

"The events are a massive challenge and one of real endurance. It is something special to be competing on that stage."

Irish Tarmac title 'the ultimate aim'

While there are lingering regrets about not being able to break through onto the world stage, Fisher admits he is "very happy" with where he is and with what he has achieved in the following years.

While Bertie has four Irish Tarmac titles, Fisher says "it's the ultimate aim" to get his name on an impressive roster of drivers that includes his uncle, Breen, Austin McHale, Garry Jennings and Jimmy McRae.

"It has been a thorn in my side for the past two or three seasons, and I know we can get it nailed.

"It is certainly not going to be easy with the competition that is out there."

If Alastair was to stop rallying and hang up his helmet tomorrow, then he could look back on an impressive career, which has spanned Ireland, Europe and the world, with a smile.

However, with his eyes firmly on more silverware and the Irish Tarmac Championship title, the latest chapter on the incredible Fisher legacy has only just begun.

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