Eugene Donnelly helps Keith Cronin launch British rally title defence
Keith Cronin is set to defend his British rally title after all, starting on the Pirelli International next week, and it is thanks in no small part to record-equalling Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly.
It was thought that Cronin, the four-time British champion from Co Cork, would be forced to sit out this season's series when he was unable to secure a deal to continue with the M-Sport Ford team.
But now, with Donnelly's help, he has made the switch to Hyundai and will drive an R5 i20 on the Carlisle-based Pirelli event on Saturday, April 28.
Donnelly, who has made his comeback to the Tarmac series after a five-year gap, has driven an R5 Hyundai equipped with development MRF tyres on the first two rounds of this year's Championship and it is this car that Cronin will use in the north of England forests next week before switching to the newer Evo version for the remaining rounds.
"It has all been a bit of a rush pulling the deal together in time for the Pirelli Rally," explained Donnelly.
"So Keith will drive my car for the first round but he will be on Michelin tyres.
"I said when I came back to rallying that it wasn't about winning more rallies or more Championships but about trying to progress the sport and help progress the younger generation of drivers.
"It would have been a shame if Keith wasn't able to defend the title he won so brilliantly last year and by linking him up with Hyundai Customer Racing we have been able to secure a deal for him to do the whole series, including Wales Rally GB.
"Philip Case, who has been a key part of my Tarmac programme, will run the car for Keith in conjunction with Hyundai CR and we are planning a gravel test session for him early next week."
Cronin will now join a Pirelli line-up which already includes Ulster drivers Marty McCormack and Jonny Greer in the top R5 division.
Maghera man Donnelly will be back in action himself in the MRF Hyundai for the third round of the Irish Tarmac Championship, the Rally of the Lakes, on May 5/6.
Meanwhile, local rally action today centres on the former Shackleton military base at Ballykelly for a Maiden City Motor Club event which replaces the Lark in the Park.
And on the racing front, the 500 Club stage their second meeting of the season at Kirkistown.