The Ballylickey driver has entered Sunday’s event on the Cork/Kerry border as a shakedown for his WRC2 debut in Portugal. It will be his first outing on gravel for quite a while and the first in his West Cork Oil liveried Citroen DS3R5 on a gravel rally.
“I haven’t driven on gravel for a while now, Rally GB in 2013 was my last outing.” said Cronin, who plans a brief test before Sunday. “I want to get the feel of the car on gravel and see how it handles. I need to get some level of competition on gravel before Portugal and get a good level of pace.”
For his WRC2 bid that involves eight rounds of the world series, Cronin will have Scotland’s Stuart Loudon calling the notes. However, Loudon is unavailable this weekend. Instead, Killarney’s Shane Buckley, the regular co-driver with Keith’s young brother Daniel, will deputise on the eight-stage event. Cronin is expected to adapt quickly, how the DS3R5 performs will be under much more scrutiny.
The event is the third round of the Valvoline National Forest Rally Championship and the presence of Cronin is a great boost for the rally and he will relish the opportunity to renew battle with many of his old adversaries.
They include former champion London-based Cork driver Michael O’Brien (Ford Focus WRC), who returns to his native county as leader of the present campaign having won in Carrick-on-Suir and taken third place in Donegal.
Championships are won and indeed lost on fine margins, as Antrim’s Desi Henry can testify to his detriment having lost out to Murphy by a mere point last season. He will be co-driven by Millstreet’s Liam Moynihan, who actually lifted the co-driver’s crown last season. Retirement on the last round has added pressure on their title bid but having figured well in Ballyvourney last year they should bounce back — a decision on whether to use the Subaru WRC or a Mitsubishi will be made today.
Fresh from an impressive third on the Circuit of Ireland, Josh Moffett (Mitsubishi) will be full of confidence as he too gets back on the trail of a national forest title bid.
Donegal winner Andrew Purcell (Mitsubishi) is probably the biggest threat to the opposition. The Waterford driver took a long overdue win in Donegal and should be in the frame again on Sunday. The top 10 also includes Martin Cairns (Subaru S14), Darragh O’Riordan (Fiesta WRC), Gerard Lucey (Mitsubishi) and Niall Henry (Mitsubishi).
Midleton man O’Riordan makes a rare appearance in a forest rally and a first in his Fiesta WRC. Elsewhere, the Modified entry features the Escorts of Mickey Conlon, James Coleman and David Crossen, while current incumbent of the Billy Coleman award Galwegian Dean Raftery (Fiesta R2) is also competing. The opening stage is scheduled to start at 10.20am, and is based at the Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney.
Meanwhile, Robert Barrable, who led last week’s Circuit of Ireland until he beached his Fiesta R5, is planning to compete in the Rally of the Lakes at the end of the month. The event will be launched on Sunday in Killarney.
Cork racer Matt Griffin opens his campaign with the 4 Hours of Silverstone tomorrow which marks the start of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) Championship.
The Ferrari GT driver has regular teammate Duncan Cameron with him and they will be joined by Aaron Scott for the ELMS season on board the No. 55 Ferrari 458 GTE. “We have had a very good testing programme so far and I feel we are in good shape. The ELMS is a very strong championship, particularly in the GTE class. I love racing at Silverstone and having been on the podium for the last two years it gives me loads of confidence.” Griffin will also race in Blancpain Endurance Series, the International GT Open, selected rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship along with the GT Asia Series.
Tomorrow’s race begins at 2.30pm.
4 Hours of Silverstone (Round 1, European Le Mans Series) Silverstone; MEC Sporting Trial, Snowhill, Slieverue, Co. Kilkenny, 12noon; Wexford Hillclimb, Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford. 12.30pm. Clare Autotest, Clare Marts, Ennis. 3pm.
Munster Moonraker Rally (Round 3, Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship)
Ballyvourney. 9.00am; Cavan Autocross, Latton Quarry, Cootehill. 10.30am;
Clare Autotest, Clare Marts, Ennis. 11am; Tipperary 4x4 Trial, Dualla, Cashel. 11am. MEC Sporting Trial, Snowhill, Slieverue, Co. Kilkenny, 11.30am.