Classy Cronin cracks it but thinks twice about continuing title chase
The statistics say both the British and Irish Tarmac rally championships should go down to the wire on the final rounds but the reality may prove different.
Despite his resounding win in the M-Sport Ford Fiesta on the John Mulholland Ulster Rally which took him into second place in the British series, Keith Cronin left Londonderry unsure whether he will contest the final round in the Isle of Man. And Sam Moffett is already Tarmac champion in all but name.
Even though there are extra points available on the double-header Manx event, Cronin said he would have to decide if it would be worth the commitment and expense for just an outside chance of overhauling BRC leader Fredrik Ahlin who was happy to head home to Sweden after a battling second place.
"Even if I won both legs of the rally - a tall order - he only needs a couple of top three places to stay ahead and the way he has driven this season that is well within his reach," said the three-time British champion from Cork.
The demise of Alastair Fisher, who went out on just the second stage when his Ford Fiesta suffered engine trouble, dropped the Tarmac championship into Moffett's hands and, effectively, he only needs to start the final round in Cork to add the international title to the national series he has already won.
Fisher's early exit robbed the rally of potential battle royal in which he and Moffett would surely have challenged Cronin and Ahlin for the top honours on an event which tested everyone's skill levels to the maximum. Moffett's game plan was thrown out the window and instead of fighting at the front as he has done all season, he drifted back to sixth, settling for the points and surely a first Tarmac title.
"I was sad to see Alastair stopped and it left me in two minds - go for it or take the points. I never got into a good rhythm and in the end concentrated on getting through a really tough rally," said Moffett.
Jonny Greer was best of the Ulster drivers, quietly mixing pace with guile to take the final place on the podium for a third year in a row in his DS3 Citroen as well as being the leading Tarmac championship finisher. Early punctures spoiled the chances of Marty McCormack and Desi Henry although a late charge on Saturday saw them climb to fourth and fifth respectively.
One battle that seems set to run and run is the fight for the British Junior title between the Ulster duo of William Creighton and Callum Devine. They were vying over the lead at the weekend until the alternator on Devine's Opel Adam failed and he had to retire, leaving Creighton to take maximum points a long way ahead of Norway's Oscar Solberg and the lead in the series.
Moira teenager Creighton finished 11th overall in his little R2 Peugeot, one place behind the Ford Escort of national division winner Camillus Bradley.
Meanwhile, Craig Breen nipped past Elfyn Evans and into his familiar fifth place on the final stage of Rally Deutschland as Ott Tanak claimed his second win of the season for Ford.
Kris Meeke was long gone by the time Andreas Mikkelsen crossed the line in second place, Citroen's best result since the Ulsterman won in Mexico back in May. His rally ruined by "a stupid mistake" on the opening spectator stage on Thursday night, Meeke retired on Saturday with a "cooling issue" in his C3 and he headed home, co-driver Paul Nagle anxious to see his new baby, born over the weekend.
Sebastien Ogier finished third to take a 17 point lead over Thierry Neuville at the top of the World championship.