Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Champ Cronin throws down a big challenge

Keith Cronin has already sent out a “catch me if you can” message as he continues the defence of his British title during the Pirelli International Rally this weekend.

The 23-year-old from Cork became the first Irish driver in over 30 years to win the British championship in 2009 but for this year he has switched from Mitsubishi to Subaru having earned himself an all-expenses-paid season with the Pirelli TEG Sport team.

No-one, not even Cronin, was sure how he would handle the transition. The answer came on the opening round of the series, the Bulldog Rally in north Wales, where Cronin blitzed the opposition on the first two stages and went on to win for the second year in a row by more than two minutes.

Now he moves north to Carlisle, to the giant Kielder forest complex, and the Pirelli International which he also won last year.

The only challenge to his supremacy so far has come from Ulster driver Alastair Fisher, hero of the Circuit of Ireland.

Fisher was in second place, and had beaten Cronin on stages three and four in Wales, before his Mitsubishi suffered transmission failure, forcing him out.

But the 21-year-old from Trillick bounced back and demonstrated his potential by leading the Circuit of Ireland at Easter in his production Mitsubishi, eventually dropping back to third after a puncture.

Fisher admits he was taken by surprise by Cronin’s initial pace on the Bulldog Rally, starting too cautiously, but he responded positively and says he doesn’t intend to be caught napping again.

Cronin will also be keeping a wary eye on another of Ireland’s rising stars, Craig Breen, who was an early casualty in Wales when his S2000 Ford Fiesta retired with a fractured fuel line.

He was sidelined before he could show the full potential of the new Fiesta and he’s determined to offer a more serious challenge this time despite only arriving in Carlisle yesterday.

The rally starts from Carlisle racecourse tonight and continues tomorrow.

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