Big ask for Cronin as he spearheads Irish challenge in the BRC
Reinging champion Keith Cronin heads up a strong Irish challenge in the opening round of the British Rally Championship, the Pirelli International, this weekend.
Cronin is seeded at No.1 with Marty McCormack, a former British junior champion, at three and Jonny Greer at six as the BRC series makes a belated start after the scheduled first round in the Scottish borders last month fell victim to heavy snow.
Cronin won the British title for the fourth time last year but it seemed he would have to sit out this year's series after failing to secure a new deal with the M-Sport Ford team.
However, a last-minute rescue package sees him switch to Hyundai and take his place at the top of the entry list.
The deal with Hyundai Customer Racing was brokered by former Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly but came so late that a new R5 i20 couldn't be readied in time, and instead Cronin will drive the car Donnelly has used in the opening two round of the Irish series.
He had an acclimatisation test in the car earlier this week but it may be asking too much to expect the man from Ballylickey to be on the pace needed to win against a field which includes former British and multi-Scottish champion David Bogie.
He is seeded at No.2 in his Skoda Fabia just ahead of the similar car of McCormack, who may well be this weekend's dark horse. He is back on his favoured gravel surface and has already won a round of the Irish forestry series this season as a warm-up for the Pirelli tests in the giant Kielder forest complex in the north east of England.
Greer, the current Northern Ireland champion, has opted not to contest the BRC this season but makes the trip anyway with his R5 Ford Fiesta.
Matt Edwards, who replaces Cronin in the M-Sport Ford team, and Rhys Yates in another Skoda are the other major contenders.
The rally starts from Carlisle on Saturday morning.