Cronin's Ypres win puts him back in British title hunt
Keith Cronin moved himself back into contention for a fourth British Rally Championship title with a maximum haul of points from the first round of the series ever staged in Belgium.
While many of his rivals succumbed to the deceptive roads of Flanders, Cronin kept his head to finish sixth overall and, most importantly, the top BRC contender on the classic Ypres Rally. He will now come back for the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally, effectively his home round, third in the standings behind Welshman Osian Pryce and Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin.
Overall victory in Ypres went to Hyundai's Kevin Abbring in a tight battle with Bryan Bouffier but Cronin used all his European experience to get himself back in the BRC title chase after a disappointing start to the season. Apart from one blip when his M-Sport Ford Fiesta ploughed into a vegetable field, he kept out of the deep ditches which claimed many including Ulstermen Marty McCormack and Desi Henry as well as David Bogie.
Cronin was initially involved in a battle with Ahlin for top BRC points but when the Swede crashed on the final Friday stage, the Ballylickey driver settled a safety first approach.
"We had a good fight with Fredrik until he went off and when that happened, it changed my whole approach to the rally," said Cronin. "I was very cautious and stayed in the middle of the road.
"Coming into this round, we thought we were out of the championship but now we are in with a fighting chance."
Matt Edwards took second after Henry rolled his Skoda and Pryce was third to move into the championship lead.
Two other Ulster drivers, Callum Devine and William Creighton, took the top two places in the British junior championship division. Young Devine, from Claudy, who had finished an impressive seventh overall in his R2 Opel Adam in the Donegal International a week earlier, saw off the challenge of Vauxhall factory driver Chris Ingram for the biggest win of his career.
Meanwhile, Sam Moffett made it five wins out of five in the Irish National Championship Raven's Rock Rally in his WRC Ford Fiesta, beating champion Roy White by 18 seconds.
In a remarkable third place was Craig Breen, the Citroen World championship driver taking part in a Mk2 Ford Escort with his close pal, the wheelchair-bound Patrick Croke, co-driving for the first time.
Elsewhere, Kildare teenager James Roe played a starring role in the 500 Club's two-day race meeting at Kirkistown. He won the opening Britcover UK Formula Ford championship round and also led the second race before being forced out with driveshaft failure, the win going to Jamie Thorburn.
Roe was in the thick of the action, too, in the Dawson/WAM NI championship, finishing second to British champion Niall Murray in the first of the two races. He was second again in a frenetic finish to race two which saw Alan Davidson edge his Mondiale over the line ahead of Roe's Firman with David McCullough third.