Keith Cronin may switch to challenge for fourth British crown
Irish Tarmac rally champion Keith Cronin is said to be considering a switch to the British Championship this year. His title-winning Citroen DS3 R5 has been sold to Ulster driver and rally car dealer Kieron Graffin's KG Motorsport team amid rumours that Cronin has been approached by M-Sport to drive an R5 Ford Fiesta in the British series.
Elfyn Evans won the British title last season in an M-Sport Fiesta running under the banner of DMACK Tyres but the Welshman has been confirmed as part of the Ford World Championship team and will start the season in next week's Monte Carlo Rally.
Cronin would be an ideal replacement, the Cork driver having already won the British series three times. So far he has made no comment and sources say any M-Sport deal is some way from being finalised.
The British Championship will start with a new event, the Border Counties Rally in Scotland, on March 17-18 following the cancellation of the scheduled opening round, the Mid Wales Rally, due to concerns over the costs.
The introduction of the Scottish event means another date clash with Irish Tarmac rounds. The West Cork Rally, round two of the premier Irish series, is also listed for St Patrick's weekend and the Pirelli Carlisle International is on the same May Bank Holiday weekend as the Rally of the Lakes in Killarney.
It will mean a number of Irish drivers like Desi Henry, Marty McCormack, the Moffett brothers and Jonny Greer having to prioritise.
Most are expected to start the new season with the Galway International at the beginning of next month but thereafter they have a decision to make.
But it seems unlikely champion Cronin will be in Galway to begin the defence of his Irish title as neither M-Sport nor DMACK Tyres have shown interest in the Tarmac series.
Plans for the Corrib Oil Galway event on February 4-5 are continuing as Motorsport Ireland try to resolve the stalemate over public liability insurance.
Meanwhile, the 2017 Ulster rally season will kick-off with the traditional New Year Stages at Kirkistown on January 28.
With the Co Down circuit also being the venue for the opening round of the Northern Ireland Stage Championship, the Ulster Automobile Club event presents an early opportunity to prepare for the start of the series. The North Armagh Club's Pacenotes Magazine Stages is on February 11 and includes a round of the Junior 1000 Challenge.