Cronin chasing the points as Ypres Rally makes BRC bow
Only three British drivers have ever won the Ypres Rally, a classic Belgian event which is part of the British Championship for the first time.
Tony Pond, Jimmy McRae and our own Kris Meeke are the only ones to have succeeded in mastering the flat but deceptive roads of the Flanders region. And despite a big influx of drivers from the BRC series, including a strong Irish contingent led by Keith Cronin and Marty McCormack, there is little likelihood of any of them repeating Meeke's 2009 success.
The event, which starts this evening, has attracted a record entry of R5 cars and the line up boasts some of the continent's best drivers like Monte Carlo Rally winner Bryan Bouffier, former Intercontinental champion Giandomenico Bassi and 11 times Ypres winner Freddy Loix.
Then there is Thierry Neuville. The Belgian, who will drive an R5 Hyundai i20, is second in the World Championship and winner of the French and Argentinian rounds. It is the equivalent of Meeke coming home to contest the Ulster Rally.
But while Neuville will start as clear favourite, he will not affect the British Championship points scoring efforts of Cronin and co who have ground to make up on the current leader, Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin, as the series switches from gravel to asphalt stages.
Cronin, a three-time champion, has had a troubled start to the championship this year, his M-Sport Ford Fiesta dogged by punctures, and is down in fifth place, 31 points adrift of Ahlin.
Former British junior champion McCormack is fourth, the highest placed Irish driver, and with previous experience of the Ypres Rally has opted to play his joker card which can add up to five points to his finishing position.
But such is the strength of the Ypres entry list that his Skoda Fabia is seeded down at No.14, just ahead of Cronin, with Desi Henry at 23, Jonny Greer back at No.31 and Robert Woodside at 41.
Top juniors William Creighton, Callum Devine and Marty Gallagher are all involved too having made the trip to Belgium directly from last weekend's Donegal International where Devine finished an impressive seventh overall in his little R2 Opel Adam.