In dry, sunny but sometimes windy conditions they led through all eight stages in the Derrynasaggart Mountains and finished 20.6 seconds ahead of the Fiesta R5 of Monaghan’s Josh Moffett and co-driver Stephen Thornton, who took maximum points in the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship.
The Fiesta WRC of Sam Moffett/James Fulton were just 4.3 seconds further behind in third and 5.8 ahead of last year’s event winners Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan (Skoda Fabia R5).
The 12.80km Knocknabro stage provided Cronin with the optimum start as he opened up a 2.5 second lead over Josh Moffett with Sam Moffett another 1.7 seconds in arrears and 2.3 ahead of Desi Henry.
Crossing the N22 for the shorter second stage, Cronin went 5.6 seconds ahead of Josh Moffett with Henry – another 6.3 seconds adrift displacing Sam Moffett for third by two-tenths of a second.
Leader Cronin reckoned the compound of the DMACK tyres he used over the two stages was too soft and his Fiesta was rolling about. Josh Moffett knew of a few places where he could improve next time around. Henry felt he struggled running first of the four-wheel drives while Sam Moffett thought his WRC lacked traction on the slow corners.
Having fitted a harder compound tyre, Cronin cemented his lead with another pair of fastest stage times to move 14.1 seconds clear. Josh Moffett admitted he was on the limit while his brother Sam regained third (13.1 seconds further adrift) but still suffered some wheel spin.
Henry had altered the set-up of his Skoda but the changes didn’t work and he reverted to the original settings. Adrian Hetherington (Toyota Corolla) and local ace Gerard Lucey (Mitsubishi) completed the top six.
They were followed by Jonny Leonard (Mitsubishi), who had brake troubles; Liam Regan (Peugeot) had a slipping clutch as Jordan Hone (Mitsubishi) and Barry Kenna (Mini WRC) completed the top ten. The Escort of David Crossen led the two-wheel drive category.
An unrelenting Cronin continued with a strong pace on S.S. 5 and 6 and went 22.5 seconds ahead of Josh Moffett as Sam closed to within 9.1 seconds of his brother. An improving Henry was only 2.1 seconds further back.
Slackening his pace ever so slightly on the closing pair of stages, Cronin went on to claim the spoils with Josh and Sam Moffett completing the top three. Henry, Hetherington and Lucey completed an unchanged top six.
Crossen (Escort) won the Modified section,though he lost a few seconds with a rear axle issue on S.S. 3. Mickey Conlon (Escort), who took second, punctured on S.S. 6.
The Down duo of William Creighton/Jonny Hart (Peugeot 208 R2) won the Junior event.
Meanwhile, having led the Tour de Corse for the opening six stages, a blown engine robbed Citroen’s Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle of back-to-back wins in the World Rally Championship.
French ace Thierry Neuville took full advantage to give Hyundai their first win of the season - he finished 54.7 seconds ahead of series leader Sebastien Ogier (Fiesta WRC).
Dani Sordo (Hyundai) was 1.3 seconds further behind in third. Waterford’s Craig Breen (Citroen) was fifth – denied fourth by a tenth of a second, he set the third best time in the Power Stage.