Belfast Telegraph

Cronin pushes all the way for Top Driver title

By Sammy Hamill

The main titles have all been settled and a Sebastien is World champion ahead of Wales Rally GB which starts from Deeside tonight.

But for the first time in almost a decade, it is not Sebastien Loeb but Sebastien Ogier who is champion, although he is French too.

Now a third French Sebastien, this one called Chardonnet, will be trying to take a major step along the same route by winning the last big prize at stake in this year's World Championship, the Citroen Top Driver award.

And what a prize! Six rounds in next year's WRC2 series in one of the new R5 Citroen DS3s, all funded by the French manufacturer. It is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and could be the crucial rung on the ladder to the heights reached by the other Sebastiens.

But there is one last hurdle for Chardonnet to overcome – Keith Cronin and the Belfast-based Charles Hurst Citroen team.

It is possible the young French star had never heard of Cronin, a 27-year-old accountant from Ballylickey in Co Cork, until the Top Driver series began in Portugal back in May. But six months later he knows what a formidable opponent the shy Irishman is.

It has all come down to a straight fight between the two of them with Chardonnet leading by seven points but facing the new challenge of the wet, slippery Welsh forests. It is terrain Cronin is familiar with having won there during his reign as a three-time British champion.

Such is the value of the career-changing prize, and the complication of the possible outcomes, that both the Chardonnet and Cronin camps have sought to cover all scenarios and increase their chances of securing the team prize which includes the contract to run their driver in the World championship next year.

The French, for instance, have called in former Monte Carlo Rally winner Bryan Bouffier, who won the opening round in Portugal but has since moved on to become a test driver with the new Hyundai team. But he's back and if he can beat Cronin, it makes Chardonnet's task easier.

Cronin's team have responded by recruiting Jukka Korhonen, the Finn who has just succeeded Cronin as British champion, the aim being to push Chardonnet down the finishing order and score team points.

"It's going to be a great battle with Sebastien," said Cronin, who is partnered in his David Greer Motorsport-prepared R3 Citroen DS3 by Fermanagh co-driver Marshall Clarke.

"The conditions will be difficult and we know that this rally can throw up all sorts of challenges. The other crews competing in R3 Citroens will also be looking to get involved in the fight, which is going to pose even more problems for us.

"But the prize for the winner is amazing and we'll be giving our all to try and get the win."

Belfast Telegraph

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