Belfast Telegraph

Cronin charges into Manx lead but title rival Ahlin keeps pressure on

 

By Sammy Hamill

Keith Cronin led the way into the night on the first leg of the Rally Isle of Man in his bid for a fourth British Championship.

But the man at the top of the standings going into this weekend's final round, Fredrik Ahlin, was shadowing him closely.

The Manx event is divided into two scoring opportunities over three days and Cronin needs to win both to have a chance of overhauling the Swedish driver.

The recent Ulster Rally winner from Cork made a strong start yesterday evening, setting fastest times on three of the opening four stages in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta.

Tucked in second was Matt Edwards in another Fiesta, just six seconds back, with Ahlin safely in third place in his Skoda Fabia, a further 12 seconds behind.

Rhys Yates, Hugh Hunter and Alex Laffey, all in Fiestas, completed the top six.

The battle for the British junior title centres on two young Ulster drivers, William Creighton and Callum Devine, and their season-long see-saw duel continued last night.

Creighton nosed ahead on the first stage, but by just six-10ths of a second, and then he put his R2 Peugeot 208 off the road on stage two, dropping 20 seconds and putting Devine in front.

The pendulum swung again on stage three when Devine clipped a kerb on the Marine Drive spectator stage, breaking a wheel rim of his Opel Adam and losing close to two minutes.

It dropped the Claudy driver back down the field while Creighton climbed into the top 10, enhancing his chances of claiming the £30,000 junior prize.

Meanwhile, the Millers Oil Northern Ireland Hillclimb Championship comes to a conclusion tomorrow at Knockagh on the outskirts of Carrickfergus.

Revived in 2016 by the Ulster Automobile Club after a gap of more than 40 years, it was won by Richard McGimpsey in his single-seater RMG Turbo.

The Newtownards driver, son of a former champion, has had a strong finish to the current season, but it came too late to stop Chris Houston retaining his title.

With another championship safely in the bag, Houston skips tomorrow's final round leaving McGimpsey to chase down a second successive Knockagh win and, if the weather permits, beat his own record of 45.34 seconds.

Sponsored by local Hyundai dealership Cannon Motors, the three-quarter mile hill runs from the top of the Woodburn Road in Carrickfergus up towards the monument which looks out over Belfast Lough.

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