BATTLING through wet and difficult conditions, reigning British Rally Champion, Keith Cronin, took an important and memorable victory in Rally Isle of Man, the fourth round of the Dulux Trade British Rally Championship.
Although he began Saturday’s final leg with a one minute and 44.6-second advantage over Gwyndaf Evans (Mitsubishi), the Ballylickey driver still had to find a strong pace to keep his concentration. A winning margin of one minute and 38.1 seconds was overshadowed by the important acquisition of maximum points that ensures his title bid is now firmly back on course.
On Saturday’s opening stage, Cronin set the fastest time, adding eight seconds to his lead over Evans. Series leader, Jonny Greer managed to take time out of third-placed Jason Pritchard’s Subaru. In atrociously wet conditions, Cronin had to concentrate hard as his Subaru was aquaplaning. He maintained a solid buffer over Evans, who was still trying hard. By the completion of Stage 17, Cronin held a lead of one minute and 41.7 seconds. Cronin was unwilling to give Evans any encouragement and the West Cork ace set the pace on SS18. Meanwhile, Greer failed to make any inroads into Pritchard’s third place.
Unwilling to relent, Evans had a few encounters on the stages, including one when his Mitsubishi spun into a farmyard — between two pillars. Although Pritchard clipped a wheel on the penultimate test, he managed to secure third ahead of Greer, who endured a few major slides. Despite a slight off-road excursion on one of the closing stages, Finnish driver, Jarkko Nikara (Twingo) won the R2 category and finished seventh overall. In the Citroen C2R2 category, Robert Barrable took victory ahead of rival, Mark Donnelly. Joe McGonigle crashed into a field.
At the finish, Cronin said: “I’m very pleased to be back here. The car worked well, in such treacherousconditions you need to have confidence and we were able to push when we needed to. TEIN and TEG Sport have worked wonders to the car.”
Meanwhile, in the Dominic Quinn Body Repairs/Sligo Park Hotel Rally, the seventh round of the Dunlop National Rally Championship, the Welsh crew of Mel Evans/Patrick Walsh (Subaru WRC) took a significant victory in terms of securing their first ever Irish national title. Through nine tough stages and with weather conditions ever changing, they were the dominant crew and that was reflected by a 41-second winning margin over Niall Maguire/Enda Sherry (Subaru). Kevin Barrett/Sean Mullally (Subaru) were a minute and 23 seconds further behind in third.
Before the end of the opening stage, two of the contenders had bitten the dust. In fact, it was a brief rally for Garry Jennings and his Cork co-driver, David Moynihan. Their hired McKinstry Subaru WRC ground to a halt on its way to the first stage. On the stage itself, Dunlop contender Derek McGarrity retired his Subaru with a gearbox problem.
Evans, with three fastest times, opened up a 24-second advantage over Maguire with Barrett third and James Cairns (Subaru) fourth. Maguire lost around 10 seconds when he stalled at the start line of the opening stage. Declan Boyle (Escort) set a fast pace in the Modified class and slotted into fifth position. Shane Maguire (Subaru) held the early advantage in Group N where local Sligo ace, Paul Kiely (Mitsubishi) slipped to 19th after an off-road excursion.
On the repeat loop, little changed at the top, indeed, Maguire and Evans traded times and the margin between them remained at 24 seconds.
Boyle continued to impress in fifth overall and leader of the Modified category while Trevor Bustard (Mitsubishi) took up the role of Group N leader followed by Sean Flanagan (Subaru).
Punching in three fastest times on the final loop of stages, Evans ran out a deserving winner ahead of Maguire, who retains his lead in the Dunlop series.
Barrett and Cairns completed the top quartet. Boyle took victory in the Modified class. With a strong performance through the final loop, Trevor Bustard netted the Group N category.
Rally winner, Evans commented: “It’s great, I wasn’t sticking my neck out today. There is still a bit of driving to do, but the last three events are down south — closer to home and I have some knowledge of the stages down there.”
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) cruised to victory in Rally Bulgaria to claim his fourth win of the season.
The French driver finished 29.5 seconds ahead of his Spanish team mate Dani Sordo with Petter Solberg and his Irish co-driver, Chris Patterson, who won five of the final seven stages, finishing third.
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