Tyre choice for the final pair of stages proved crucial and decisive as Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin and his Killarney co-driver Shane Buckley won the Banna Beach Resort Kerry Winter Rally for the second time in three years.
It was also their second win in a fortnight following their success in the Fastnet Rally. The Cork/Kerry duo finished 9.6 seconds ahead of the Escort of Ashbourne’s Jack Newman and co-driver Andrew Browne.
Top seeds and early leaders Stephen McCann/Damien Fleming (Ford Fiesta S2000) were 29.5 seconds further adrift in third.
Meanwhile, Monaghan’s Shane Maguire (Mitsubishi), co-driven by Mac Kierans, did enough to win back-to-back titles in the Top Part West Coast Rally Championship, his fourth success in six years.
With his recent acquisition, McCann on his first ever experience of left-hand drive, posted the best time on the first stage where he was hotly pursued by the Escort of Jack Newman — nine 10ths of a second off the pace, having experienced a very slight overshoot. Third-placed Cronin — 2.2 seconds further behind — also had an early overshoot.
Cronin was best on the second stage that skirted Abbeydorney and Ardfert to move into a three-second lead over Newman, with McCann a second further behind, reckoning his Fiesta lacked outright top speed on the second stage.
McCann also admitted that he needed to improve on his braking points. Ed Synan (Escort) lost little when the gear lever knob came adrift on the opening stage, slotting into fourth ahead of local Tim Enright, who was 3.3 seconds behind and Tom Relihan, who completed the top six.
Top Part West Coast series hopeful Keith Power, who switched to a Mitsubishi, was seventh. Second in the series, he was keeping a watchful eye on Shane Maguire (Mitsubishi), who just needed to finish to regain the title.
The top 10 was completed by the Escorts of former event winner Mike Quinn and Sean Moran and the Mitsubishi of Pat O’Connell. O’Connell, better known for his exploits in gravel events, said the opening stage was the first time he had competed on wet tarmac surface.
On the repeat of both stages, the leading duo traded fastest stage times with a fraction of a second between them each time, leaving Cronin 3.1 seconds ahead at the final service. Newman pushed to the maximum on the closing two stages. Third-placed McCann lost further ground and was 15.5 seconds behind.
Synan slotted into fourth, with O’Connell making progress on the second run to close within five seconds of the Limerick driver — who was also concerned about Mike Quinn, six seconds adrift.
Meath’s Peter Wilson (Escort), who had a massive overshoot on the first stage slotted into seventh in a top 10 that also featured Power, Relihan and Sean Moran.
With the roads drying out, Cronin gambled on a soft slick tyre that he reckoned was going to be more beneficial on the penultimate stage. It paid dividends as he gained 6.1 seconds on Newman to moved 9.2 seconds clear. Cautious on the muddy opening sector of the final stage Cronin sealed victory with the fastest time.
In the chase for fourth O’Connell reeled in Synan but Quinn plummeted to 20th when he spun, damaged a front wheel and lost over two minutes on the final stage.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved