NOT since 1974 has an Irish driver won the British Rally Championship, indeed in the entire history of the BRC, only Billy Coleman has managed to triumph.
Tomorrow, another Cork driver, Keith Cronin (23) from Ballylickey, will try and emulate the great Millstreet maestro.
The Trackrod International Rally in Yorkshire, the sixth and final round of the series, sees yet another head-to-head as Cronin takes on Welsh based Manxman, Mark Higgins.
The series is based on the best five scores from six events, with this final round having a 1.5 co-efficient in terms of points. Although Higgins is currently 20 points ahead, with dropped scores taken into consideration, the margin is just two points. Cronin can win the title with a top three finish ahead of Higgins, neither driver has to win the rally.
All season long, the series has been a straight fight between the pair. Cronin took many by surprise, Higgins included, when he won the opening round, edging out Higgins on the final stage. Victory in the Pirelli Rally (Carlisle) subsequently gave Cronin a four point lead over Higgins, who was second once more. However, on both the Jim Clark Rally and Rally Isle of Man (tarmac events), Higgins won out with Cronin runner-up on each occasion. Both arrived at the Ulster Rally (the third tarmac event) on equal points. Cronin, whilst leading, crashed out and Higgins collected maximum points and a 20-point advantage.
In all of those rounds, Higgins campaigned his N11 Subaru and Cronin drove the Cremin Coaches/Cronin Motorsport liveried Mitsubishi Evo9.
For tomorrow’s nine-stage event, Higgins, who has already won the BRC on three occasions, switches to a N15 Subaru, the car driven by his Pirelli TEG Sport team mate, Adam Gould. It should be better suited to the notorious fast terrain of the Yorkshire forests. Cronin will focus on his own plan and it will be the first event of the series where he has previous experience and it should prove beneficial to the Cork ace. Last year, Cronin was third on the event better known as the “Trackrod” as Higgins and Guy Wilks battled for championship honours, with Wilks getting the verdict. At the end of the rally, Cronin was only 39 seconds behind Higgins. With most of the stages similar to 2008, it will be a great advantage to Cronin, who showed in the previous rounds, especially in the gravel events, that on repeat stages, he makes substantial time gain.
He said, “It’s a long rally so it is important to be quick and clean from the start and build on that”. On Higgins’ car change, Cronin opined, ” I suppose it shows he’s under a bit of pressure. He thinks it will work to his advantage, I really don’t know. It won’t affect what I have to do, I still have to beat him to win the championship, the fact that I competed in the event last year will be a great help.”
Elsewhere, the ever-improving Alastair Fisher joins the Irish contingent that also features fellow Mitsubishi aces, Daniel Barry and Jonny Greer. The event is based at the Pickering showground and starts at 8.15am tomorrow with the final stage scheduled to begin a 5.15pm.
Meanwhile, the Irish pair of Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Peugeot 207) protect a one point lead ahead of today’s, San Remo Rally, the penultimate round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Meeke faces his main IRC title rival, Jan Kopecky (Skoda Fabia S2000) and will be aiming to stay ahead of the Czech driver, who has triumphed in the last two rounds. Francois Duval makes his return to the IRC in a Fiat Abarth S2000 with the Italian manufacturer hoping for a strong performance from Giandomenico Basso, who along with Peugeot aces, Freddy Loix and Nicolas Vouilloz could play a major part in the destiny of the title.
The Hankook Northern Ireland Rally Championship continues with the Bushwhacker Rally that starts from Omagh tomorrow morning. Championship leader, Derek McGarrity, in the ex-Glenn Allen Toyota Corolla WRC, heads the entry. Kenny McKinstry (Subaru WRC), who is 22 points adrift, needs a victory to keep his title bid alive. Brian McGillin (Toyota Corolla WRC), James Gillen (Subaru), Martin Cairns (Subaru WRC) and Kilkenny’s, Craig Breen, who switches to a Group N Subaru, are also on the entry for the ten-stage encounter.
Mac McKenna (Peugeot) and the Escorts of Adrian Hetherington, Daniel McKenna, Paul Purtill and John O’Donnell are the principal entries for Sunday’s Monaghan Mini Stage Rally.
The Kenmare Historic Rally (December 6) will be underpinned by Kenmare Town and The Kingdom newspaper.
In motorcycling, the Roberts Cove Motorcycle Hillclimb on Sunday sees defending champion, Derek Shiels (Dublin) take on local kingpins, Derek Wilson (Honda) and record holder, Declan Swanton (Yamaha). Other local riders taking part are Glynn Quilter (Ballinhassig), John O’Donovan (Kinsale), John O’Connell (Ballyfeard) and Clonakilty duo, Owen McCarthy and Garry Keohane.
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