Belfast Telegraph

I'll need to win a fast and furious battle for Ulster triumph: Cronin

 

By Sammy Hamill

For a time earlier this year, it looked like Keith Cronin would not be defending the British rally title he won for the fourth time in 2017.

He had been unable to agree a new deal with the winning M-Sport Ford team and had been replaced by Welsh driver Matt Edwards. In motorsport, it is all about money.

What were his options? Apart from continuing in the family-owned Fiesta, the prospects of challenging for a record-equalling fifth British Championship did not look bright.

Step in Eugene Donnelly, himself a record-equalling five-time Irish Tarmac champion. A bit-part player in recent times, he had earlier announced a return to competition in a Hyundai i20 and, with the help of Cronin's regular sponsors, he brokered a deal with Hyundai Customer Racing to provide a second R5 car for the Cork driver.

But it came together so late that Cronin had to use Donnelly's car for the opening round of the BRC series, the Pirelli International, while a new i20 was built in Belgium and readied by Philip Case in Donegal.

Despite having only one day of testing to acclimatise to the Hyundai before the Carlisle event, he led it initially before falling back to finish third as his Ford replacement Edwards took his first BRC victory.

But Cronin quickly adapted to the Hyundai and took the new updated car to first place on the Circuit of Munster in the build-up to round two of the British series, the Ypres Rally in Belgium.

Heartbreakingly, a puncture on the final stage robbed him of a BRC win and allowed Edwards to once again take maximum points.

It leaves the champion second in the standings heading into this weekend's third round, the John Mulholland Ulster Rally - a position not unlike last year when he trailed Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin.

But victory on the streaming wet roads of Northern Ireland followed by a nail-biting win on the Isle of Man brought the British title back to Ballylickey.

Cronin knows it will take a repeat performance to overhaul Edwards and he predicts a "fast and furious" duel, starting on Friday.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the Hyundai will behave over those classic north Antrim stages like Tor Head and Glendun. They are some of the best in Ireland and are a real challenge," he said. "Roll on the weekend."

The Ulster International is the only rally this year which brings together the British and the Irish Tarmac Championships, meaning the likes of Cronin, Edwards, Marty McCormack, Rhys Yates and David Bogie won't be the only drivers capable of winning.

Add in Tarmac champion Sam Moffett, his brother Josh, Desi Henry and Jonny Greer, and the battle could indeed be "fast and furious".

Donnelly would have been part of that group too, but he has opted to stand down and hand his entry - and car - to Philip Allen, the rising star and son of the late Glenn Allen, a former NI champion.

From the start Donnelly had said he wasn't looking to extend his impressive record but to provide opportunities for young drivers, and now Allen gets his chance on the big stage.

Top of the entry list: 1 Keith Cronin/Mikey Galvin (Hyundai i20 R5); 2 Sam Moffett/Karl Atkinson (Ford Fiesta R5); 3 Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Ford Fiesta R5); 4 Matt Edwards/Darren Garrod (Ford Fiesta R5); 5 Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan (Skoda Fabia R5); 6 Jonny Greer/Kirsty Riddick (Ford Fiesta R5); 7 David Bogie/John Rowan (Skoda Fabia R5); 8 Marty McCormack/David Moynihan (Skoda Fabia R5); 9 Rhys Yates/James Morgan (Skoda Fabia R5); 10 Alex Laffey/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5); 11 Philip Allen/Mark Kane (Hyundai 120 R5); 12 Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont (Mini WRC); 14 Kevin Eves/Chris Melly (Toyota Corolla); 15 Camillus Bradley/Crawford Henderson (Ford Escort).

Belfast Telegraph

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