The WRC Academy concluded on Saturday’s 13th stage, after Fisher had established a 40.3s lead over second-placed Brendan Reeves. An impressive drive from Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand awarded the category newcomer the final podium spot and put him in strong early contention for the new-for-2012 Rookie Award.
“We’ve worked very hard and it’s paid off,” said 23-year-old Fisher at the finish at Faro’s Algarve Stadium this afternon. “We won the rally in the wet conditions yesterday and it worked really well. It’s a very positive start but I’m under no illusion: it’s going to be a very tough year. The quality of the entrants is even higher than last season.”
A field of 10 WRC Academy crews tackled a superspecial in Lisbon followed by three stages to the south of the Portuguese capital on Thursday. Series debutant John MacCrone hit trouble on the second stage, when the Scottish driver was forced to retire after a heavy landing.
During Thursday’s four stages Reeves, Tidemand, Fisher and Ahlin each claimed a stage win but it was Ahlin who carried an early lead by a slender 0.5 seconds going into day two.
Ahlin’s hopes for a maiden victory were dashed when the Swedish driver slid off the road on Friday’s second stage. With Ahlin out of the picture, Fisher was on a charge; claiming two stage wins to haul himself into the top spot.
Welshman Elfyn Evans - the son of former World Rally Championship driver Gwyndaf Evans - finished Friday’s opening stage second-quickest but lost nearly 14 minutes after he went off the road on stage six.
Heavy rain meant the remainder of Friday’s stages were cancelled due to safety issues, and after only two stages, Fisher was leading the Pirelli-supported WRC Academy by close to a minute. Reeves remained second, with Tidemand in third.
Saturday witnessed a return to form for Ahlin as the Swede claimed two further stage wins. Reeves claimed the fastest time on stage 12, but it was Fisher’s measured approach that rewarded the young British driver with the victory and an early championship lead.
By contrast, American driver Chris Duplessis was forced into retirement from a strong fifth place on the penultimate stage after he ripped off a wheel.
Dutchman Timo van der Marel finished fourth with Spaniard Jose Suarez fifth. Ahlin took sixth, Elfyn Evans finished seventh with Portugal’s Joao Silva eighth. John MacCrone was the final finisher in ninth position.
The next round of the WRC Academy will take place in May, as the crews travel to Greece for the rough and hot Acropolis Rally from 25-27 May.