Fisher and Cronin are searching for the perfect finish
It will almost certainly be a make or break week for Alastair Fisher and Keith Cronin in their attempts to win the most lucrative prize in world rallying.
The Rally of Finland starting on Thursday will see the two Irish drivers targeting maximum points in the Citroen Top Driver series, a six-round competition which runs within the World championship's two-wheel-drive division.
At stake is a programme no Irish driver could fund – six events in the 2014 WRC3 championship driving a factory-built Citroen DS3 R5, a new generation car which is currently being developed for the French manufacturer by chief test driver Kris Meeke.
Cronin and Fisher lie fourth and sixth in the Top Driver points table but both have been among the quickest drivers in the competition although their efforts have been hampered by ill-luck and mechanical issues.
They were among several drivers whose R2 Citroens drowned out in a river crossing in Portugal and a puncture robbed three-times British champion Cronin of near certain victory in Sardinia.
But the build-up to Finland has seen several twists in the Top Driver chase. Bryan Bouffier, the winner in Portugal, has withdrawn, officially because of lack of funds, but more likely because the Frenchman who won the 2011 Monte Carlo Rally has just signed to become one of the test drivers for the new Hyundai team scheduled to make its WRC debut next season.
Stephane Consani, another leading French driver, has entered the next round in Germany in an R5 Ford Fiesta, which would also appear to signal his exit from the series. Two other French drivers, Sebastien Chardonnet and Quentin Gilbert, jointly top the points table ahead of the absent Bouffier but Cronin, who drives for the Charles Hurst Belfast team, is just four points behind as they head into the Finnish forests.
Fisher is some way adrift and will decide after this weekend whether to continue his pursuit of the prize with the French Sainteloc team or switch his attention to the British championship where he lies second after his Scottish Rally victory.
The rally, in which Ulsterman Meeke makes his debut for World champions Citroen, starts from Jyvaskyla on Thursday.