Belfast Telegraph

All roads lead to Germany for rally aces' tarmac test

By Sammy Hamill

From the forests of Finland to the Great Wall of China and now the Mosel Valley wine-growing region of Germany.

Throw in trips to America, Portugal and Sardinia as well as regular long-haul flights to China and Marshall Clarke's feet barely touch the ground these days.

He is one of Ulster's most widely-travelled and experienced rally co-drivers who is fighting for championships on two fronts.

Today, after flying in from Beijing and the disappointment of retiring from the lead of the Chinese championship Huairou Rally alongside Niall McShea, Clarke was preparing to start the Rally of Germany in the co-driver's seat of Keith Cronin's DS3 Citroen as they continue to chase one of the most lucrative prizes in world rallying.

Almost exactly a year ago they were winning the British championship division of the Todds Leap Ulster Rally and taking a major step towards Cork accountant Cronin's third British title.

But this weekend, as the Ulster Rally centres on Clarke's home county of Fermanagh, they are part of the Charles Hurst Belfast Citroen team contesting the WRC3 division in the world championship and go into the German round on the back of an outstanding win in Finland.

It was a victory which took them to the top of the important Citroen Top Driver series and within touching distance of their goal – a six-round programme in next year's WRC2 championship on board a factory-prepared R5 Citroen DS3.

There is little doubt Cronin has stunned the Citroen Sport hierarchy. When they launched the Top Driver series they must have expected drivers like 2011 Monte Carlo Rally winner Bryan Bouffier or French Citroen Trophy champion Sebastien Chardonnet to be the leading contenders.

But both have been regularly outpaced by Cronin and, indeed, Alastair Fisher, who has now turned his attention back to the British series. Bouffier has gone, too, giving up on the Citroen prize to concentrate on a test and development role with the new Hyundai team.

Chardonnet is just three points behind Cronin, as is Quentin Gilbert and they will be banking on their superior experience of European tarmac events on the German and French rounds.

But Cronin is no slouch on tarmac, as his Galway International, Ulster, Jim Clark and Manx Rally wins demonstrate.

The rally begins from Cologne tomorrow.

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