Cronin, in the Michelin shod Hyundai i20 R5, is one of a number of Irish drivers contesting the 23-stage rally which concludes late tomorrow night.
On the opening round, the Pirelli Rally, Cronin and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin — in the car driven by Eugene Donnelly in the Irish Tarmac series — took third behind British pair Matt Edwards (Fiesta R5) and Rhys Yates (Skoda Fabia R5). On the recent Circuit of Munster Rally, Cronin debuted a new Hyundai to victory and subsequently scrapped plans to compete in a rally in Belgium last week where he had intended to get further acclimatised to the car and conditions.
On Wednesday, a 70km test in Belgium went well for the Ballylickey ace. “The championship (Cronin is aiming for a record-equalling fifth title) is our priority so we will take it stage by stage. The main issue, as I see it, is getting used to the grip level, you are braking from very high speeds.”
Derry’s Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia R5) and his Mallow co-driver David Moynihan are also in BRC mode and they should also perform well over terrain that has bitter-sweet memories for the Derry driver, who crashed out last year.
Meanwhile, Edwards, Yates, and Scotland’s David Bogie (Skoda Fabia R5) are also vying for points. Reigning and current leaders of the Irish Tarmac Championship Sam Moffett/Karl Atkinson will drive an M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 and without the shackles of BRC points, it will be interesting to see their stage times.
The presence of World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 R5) on home ground adds greatly to what is a unique and extremely popular rally where French ace Bryan Bouffier (Skoda Fabia R5) and Dutch driver Kevin Abbring (Citroen C3 R5) are the top two seeds, with Cronin at number three. The R2 category includes the Irish trio of Donegal’s Marty Gallagher, Northern Ireland’s James Wilson (Peugeot 208 R2’s), and Cork’s Kevin Horgan (Skoda Fabia R2). Beginning at 4.20pm, there are nine stages down for decision this evening.
On the home front, Waterford’s Andrew Purcell (Ford Fiesta R5) heads the entry for Sunday’s Dooley’s Hotel/Kilsheelan Limestone Quarries Raven’s Rock Rally in Waterford. While it’s his first proper tarmac rally in some 10 years, he is aiming to complete a unique double by winning the two main events hosted by the Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, who this year celebrate 60 years of motorsport. Only Ray Breen, father of WRC star Craig, has won both, in 2008.
Purcell’s main opposition is likely to come from Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin, also in a Fiesta R5, whose form has improved in recent months and that should be of benefit.
Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien (Ford Escort) should also be close to the lead pace while the Darrian T90s of overseas drivers John Dalton and John Straker could be a real threat given the nature of the terrain. Wicklow’s Daniel Barry (Citroen DS3 R5) may lack seat time in a top 10 that also features Keith Power (Mitsubishi), Wayne Evans (Escort), Eamonn Daly (Mitsubishi), and Thomas Davies (Escort). The first of the day’s nine stages (3x3) starts at 8.54am, servicing is at the WIT Arena in Waterford, with the winners due at Dooley’s Hotel finish ramp at 4.40pm.
In circuit racing, Shanagarry teenager Luca Allen contests the fifth race weekend of the British F4 series. Croft is the venue on this occasion with two races tomorrow and one on Sunday. So far this season, eighth place is his highest finish in the Fortec Motorsport-run car.