With maximum points from the Prestone British Rally championship category of the Renties Ypres Rally in view, there was final stage agony for the Cork-Kerry duo of Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (Hyundai i20 R5) — a puncture that relegated them to third of the BRC contenders.
Opening round winner Welsh ace Matt Edwards (Fiesta R5) went on to claim the spoils — his second haul of maximum points — with Scotland’s David Bogie (Skoda Fabia R5) 18 seconds behind and 7.6 seconds ahead of Cronin.
It was cruel luck as Cronin led the BRC contingent all the way since the start on Friday afternoon and into the 23rd stage. He experienced an overshoot and lost the front left light fitting and overcame a high-speed slide during the final day.
Earlier, it had all begun so well for Cronin — on the opening stage he was fifth overall and a 10th of a second quicker than the similar Hyundai i20 R5 of World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville, who went on to win the rally.
At the end of Friday’s nine stages, Cronin was sixth overall, 59.6 seconds behind leader Neuville — that margin also included a 10-second penalty.
From a BRC perspective, Cronin held top spot, 32.3 seconds ahead of Derry’s Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia R5), with series leader Matt Edwards third — he lost time with an ECU problem and his service team inserted a new wiring loom at the final service but were penalised 70 seconds for exceeding the allotted 45-minute service time.
As Cronin seemed set to repeat his BRC win of the previous year, McCormack was on course to claim second until power steering failure on the final loop left forced him out.
Another of the BRC contenders Rhys Yates also retired. Neuville’s winning margin over the Skoda Fabia R5 of Vincent Verschueren was 40.4 seconds. Cronin was 10th in overall classification while Irish Tarmac champions Sam Moffett/Karl Atkinson (Fiesta R5) endured several problems en route to 11th overall — over a minute further behind.
Meanwhile, Keith’s brother Daniel and his Killarney co-driver Shane Buckley took their Ford Fiesta R5 to a fine victory in the Dooley’s Hotel/Kilsheelan Limestone Quarries Raven’s Rock Rally in Waterford. Leading from the start, they finished a minute and 11.1 seconds ahead of the Darrian T90 of the Welsh crew of John Dalton/Gwynfor Jones with the Escort of Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien/John Butler a further 53.6 seconds behind in third.
Dalton was Cronin’s closest rival on the opening stage — 4.8 seconds behind while local ace Andrew Purcell (Fiesta R5) was a fraction of a second further adrift. By the end of the opening loop Cronin was 10.8 seconds ahead as Purcell, on his first tarmac rally in some 10 years, moved into second.
That contest ended on SS5 when driveshaft failure ground Purcell’s car to a halt. Without undue pressure, Cronin measured his drive but admitted he backed off a little too much on SS6 where Dalton broke his domination of fastest stage times and was 37.1 seconds in arrears.
Meanwhile, Martyn England (Fiesta R5+) enjoyed one of his better drives to hold third with O’Brien, who was fourth, remarking that he couldn’t get into the groove. Cronin was a class apart on stages seven and eight to push his lead beyond the minute mark and subsequently eased off on the ninth and final stage to claim a deserved win.
O’Brien reeled in England for third. Welsh ace Wayne Evans (Escort) won the two-wheel drive award and Wexford’s James Bradley (Honda Civic) won the popular Class 11F. Simon Reid (Escort) was the top local driver, finishing eighth overall.
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