Over terrain that will be relatively familiar, Keith Cronin knows that any advantage he can accrue over Frenchman, Sebastien Chardonnet will be a bonus as they go head to head for the most lucrative prize within the WRC3 feeder category of the World Rally Championship.
The pair tackle the 22 stage Wales Rally GB, the final round of the WRC that gets underway this evening with their focus on winning the Citroen Top Driver series. The victor of the six round series will receive a fully funded drive in a Citroen DS3 R5 car in six rounds of the WRC2 category of the 2014 World Rally Championship.
Estimated to be worth €500,000, Cronin’s future in the WRC depends very much on winning the series.
Yet, he cannot, and indeed will not let it interfere with his plan of action. In a season where he is supported by Motorsport Ireland, West Cork Oil and Michael O’Brien Plant Hire, Cronin, on board the Charles Hurst Citroen DS3 R3T, now has to make up a seven-point deficit to claim the dream prize. Four tough days in the Welsh forests will have to be tackled with a balance of pace and patience.
“If I think of the championship, it will put extra pressure on me, I think it’s best to take it stage by stage and see how it goes.” he said.
Chardonnet holds the advantage in terms of points and although there are several permutations on the outcome, especially if the other drivers like Bryan Bouffier, Quentin Gilbert and Jukka Korhonen manage to split the title chasing duo, Cronin can attain his goal and continued WRC participation, by claiming maximum points.
“Winning the Citroen Top Driver title and the prize drive would be a huge lift to my career,” Cronin said.
“I know just how difficult the conditions can be. It’s set to be another tough event as we need to find the fine balance between pushing for the result and having a mistake-free run.”
Meanwhile, Dubliner Robert Barrable will drive the Tunnock’s livered Ford Fiesta R5. On his maiden season in the WRC, he hasn’t enjoyed the best of fortune, although his best results have been on gravel surface — second in WRC2 in Portugal.
Monaghan’s Daniel McKenna (Ford Fiesta) received a free entry courtesy of his victory in the R2 category in the British Rally Championship. Other Irish interest include Lisburn’s Philip Morrow (Mitsubishi), Wexford’s Eamonn Boland (Subaru), Carryduff’s Jonny Greer (Citroen) and Donegal’s Joseph McGonigle (Renault Clio R3).
In comparison to tomorrow’s opening stage, Hafren at 32.14km, the longest of the stages, tonight’s opening three stages have a combined total of 24.98km.
Meanwhile, it appears that Tyrone’s Kris Meeke is still very much in the running for a Citroen seat in next year’s WRC with Killarney’s Paul Nagle tipped to be his co-driver. It is likely that Citroen will announce their driver line-up after this weekend’s Wales Rally GB. Confirmation that Belgium’s Thierry Neuville will be the lead driver for Hyundai Motorsport’s World Rally Championship programme after the 25-year-old signed a multi-year agreement with the Korean manufacturer will prompt more movement within the WRC. It is also being speculated that Mikko Hirvonen will leave Citroen for M-Sport.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved