They share a win apiece, with Cronin claiming the title in 2014. Two seasons ago McCann, then driving a Mitsubishi EvoIX, beat Cronin (Subaru WRC) by just 5.5 seconds.
They later swapped cars with McCann switching to a Ford Fiesta S2000 before the 2105 event in north Kerry where Cronin, in the ex-McCann car beat the Cavan man by 39.1 seconds.
While McCann returns to Banna in his Fiesta S2000 that’s been re-fettled since crashing on the Acesigns Cork “20” International Rally, Cronin will use the Mitsubishi EvoX he acquired last May.
As he goes in search of a third event win and equal the feat of his British Rally Championship winning brother Keith, who won in Banna from 2007 to 2009, it will be his third outing in the car. Both his previous runs ended in disappointment – in Carlow, a loose oil pipe brought an end to his rally and in the Imokilly Rally transmission woes meant he did not finish.
The Fiesta R5 that Cronin drove to victory in Clare last September isn’t eligible here, hence the switch to the Mitsubishi. The terrain, especially on S.S. 1 that is repeated as S.S. 3 and S.S. 5 could determine the outcome. Cronin said: “The first stage appears to be very fast with several chicanes. With the Mitsubishi, I need the stages to be flowing to get a good time.”
On the recent Cork “20” McCann was 5.2 seconds ahead of Cronin after the opening four stages only to crash on the next stage at Kilnamartyra. It is unlikely “Banna” will just be a two-way tussle with Ed O’Callaghan in his 2.5 litre Ford Escort intent on breaking the duo’s dominance.
A second place in the Baltinglass Rally will imbue the Limerick ace with confidence. Meanwhile, local ace and 2013 winner Mike Quinn (Ford Escort) will also fancy his chances. Others like Limerick’s Ed Synan and Monaghan’s Shane Maguire (Mitsubishi EvoIX) are unlikely to be far off the pace. Maguire has an outside chance of landing the popular Top Part West Coast Championship with Kerry’s Tim Enright (Ford Escort) only needing a reasonable finish to secure his first major title.
Weather conditions are likely to have an impact on the performance of Donegal’s Stuart Darcy, the former Billy Coleman award winner will certainly be a potent force in the ex-Ian Barrett Darrian T90 particularly if the roads are dry.
The Group N Mitsubishi of Clashmore’s Brian O’Keeffe rounds out the top ten. Following the 9.30am start, the day’s servicing arrangements are at the sea front in Ballyheigue. The finish ramp proceedings at the Banna Beach Resort Hotel are timed for 3.30pm.
Meanwhile, the second round of the National Navigation Championship begins from Knockatallon at 9.00pm tomorrow night. Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson (Escort) and the legendary Michael Dunlop also in an Escort compete in the PokerStars Rally on the Isle of Man that starts today.