Title contenders on two fronts go head to head in Derry

Contenders for the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship and the Prestone British Rally Championship go head to head for the only time this season on the John Mulholland Ulster Rally starting in Derry this afternoon.

Swedish ace and BRC leader Fredrik Ahlin (Skoda Fabia R5) is the top seed but drivers such as Keith Cronin and Marty McCormack and ITC title duo Sam Moffett and Alistair Fisher should provide strong opposition over the event’s 14 stages.

Ahlin has a strong lead in the British championship but the title is still attainable for five others including Cronin, however, the West Cork driver and the remaining title aspirants need their Swedish rival to have a non-finish in a remaining round — the series concludes with the Isle of Man Rally that counts as a double round.

Aside from Ahlin, Cronin is the only other driver on the Ulster line-up that has taken a maximum score in a round of the BRC.

Derry’s Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia) could be the surprise packet on his home event. Welshman Osian Pryce (Fiesta R5) is second in the series and will have high hopes in Derry where local driver Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) shouldn’t be far off the pace.

For Fisher and Moffett, points in the ITC will be their principal aim. This penultimate round will have a major bearing on the destiny of the title.

Moffett has a 7.5-point advantage, but with the series based on the best six scores from seven events, Fisher, based on the dropped score scenario, has a three-point advantage — a margin that equals the difference between the top two finishing places.

With the exception of just one stage, the route is the same as last year, which should raise the level of competition.

Moffett has benefited from the Fisher/Cronin battle in last year’s ITC and has raised his game significantly.

Meanwhile, round 10 of the World Rally Championship, the ADAC Rallye Deutschland marks a return to tarmac surface after five gravel events, with the series finely poised with Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20WRC) and Sebastien Ogier (Fiesta WRC) equal on points.

From an Irish perspective, the attention will again zoom in on the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team that has three C3 WRCs with Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger hoping to give a much-needed boost to the form of the French outfit.

The changing surface along with the weather makes it one of the most difficult to predict. Following last night’s prologue in Saarbrucken there are seven stages today through the vineyards along the Mosel River.

Citroen undertook a week of testing with Meeke, Breen, and Mikkelsen working in stints before nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb completed the test. Meeke’s strategy for the event is quite simple, “If you hope to place well at the finish, you need to go flat out from the first to the final mile.”

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