00:00 Saturday 08 May 2010  Written by Martin Walsh

Cronin wins Rally of the Lakes

A DREAM come true is how Denis Cronin described his victory in last weekend's Cartell.ie Killarney International Rally of the Lakes.

Some 29 years after he made his rallying debut, ironically, on the Rally of the Lakes, the Ballylickey driver and his co-driver, Helen O'Sullivan, brought their West Cork Oil and Cremin Coaches liveried Subaru WRC to a unexpected victory in the event that was the third round of the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship and the second round of the Southern 4 Championship.

They seemed set to finish second overall until Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely (Subaru WRC), who led from the start, retired with transmission trouble on the twelfth stage.

At the finish, Cronin and O'Sullivan were 36.5 seconds ahead of Aaron MacHale and Eugene O'Donnell (Ford Focus WRC) with Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts (Ford Fiesta S2000) taking third at the expense of Alastair Fisher and Rory Kennedy. Fisher now leads the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship.

Aside from the winners, Carrigaline's Brian O'Mahony (Renault Clio S1600), who was co-driven by John Higgins, were a fine sixth overall runaway winners of Class 3A.

The National category of the event also brought Cork success, Banteer's Barry Meade (Ford Escort), who was co-driven by Johnny Hickey (Escort), came out on top. In a similar situation to Cronin, Meade also seemed set to finish second in his category until the retirement of Phil Collins (Escort) with a broken hub on S.S. 11.

Barryroe's Damien McCarthy and his Ownahincha co-driver Eamonn Hayes brought their Ardgehane Motors Honda Civic home in a superb third overall in the National section. They overcame transmission woes on Saturday's stages, a new gearbox was fitted at the Green Glens service halt and they went on to secure third. They also won the Sean Conlon Memorial award for the highest placed Class 9, 10 or 11 crew.

Elsewhere, in the International event, Baltimore's Stephen Carey and his Skibbereen co-driver, Mark Lee, won Class 1, they lost time on one of the Saturday stages when they slid off the road. However, with the aid of some spectators, their Honda Civic was extricated from the scenery. Dunmanway's Jason McSweeney and Denis O'Mahony (Honda Civic) were second in Class 11.

In the Junior category, Clonakilty drivers featured amongst the top three overall awards. Lyre's Mike McKennedy and Pakie McCarthy (Toyota Corolla) were third in the category with David Guest and Liam Moynihan (Honda Civic) taking the runner-up spot. Dunmanway's Owen Crowley and John Caverley (Ford Escort) won Class D2 in the Historic section.

ENDED

The opening stage near Barraduff was closely contested between Tim McNulty and Gareth MacHale, who were separated by a 2.3 second margin in favour of the former. The conditions were quite greasy, a situation that ensured the crews treated the stage with a certain degree of caution.

Midleton's Daragh O'Riordan (Subaru WRC) was some 13 seconds behind MacHale with Cronin and Aaron MacHale next on the leaderboard. The early pace in the Group N category was set by Alastair Fisher, meanwhile, not long after departing the start ramp, Alan Ring and his Newcestown co-driver, Adrian Deasy made a quick exit when their Mitsubishi caught fire.

Gareth MacHale's rally ended abruptly when engine related issues forced him out during the second stage. With two stages completed, McNulty led the Subaru WRC of Daragh O'Riordan by 30.3 seconds, O'Riordan stated that he was being quite cautious. Aaron MacHale (Ford Focus) occupied third - some 20.6 seconds further behind.

On the return to the Green Glens service halt and having completed three more stages, McNulty acknowledged that he was driving according to his new found role and had slackened his pace accordingly; he led O'Riordan by one minute and 13 seconds. Alastair Fisher slotted his Mitsubishi into third place followed by Cronin, who reckoned his Subaru seemed to be down on power.

O'Riordan's rally ended on the day's penultimate test, Gortnagane, where he slid his Subaru off the road.

Quickest through Moll's Gap, the day's final stage, McNulty finished the opening leg with an advantage of one minute and 33.3 seconds over Cronin, who was beginning to find a rhythm and was managing to fend off the challenge of Fisher, who held second during the afternoon. The Fermanagh man was third in a top six that also featured Aaron MacHale, Craig Breen and Colm Murphy.

Paul Bird, having lost time with anti lag trouble on the opening stage, fought back to finish the leg in seventh place. Eamonn Daly (Mitsubishi) was eighth. Having made a number of incorrect tyre choices, an experience shared by many other crews, Brian O'Mahony (Renault Clio S1600) ended the day in ninth place.

On the Sunday's stages, McNulty held his composure and as the likes of Cronin, Fisher, Aaron MacHale and Craig Breen battled for stage supremacy, the rally leader maintained a solid buffer. McNulty was actually quickest on the opening test at Shanera while Cronin was best through stages 9 and 10 and shared equal fastest with Aaron MacHale on stage 11.

Cronin did have a concern about the power steering pump that was subsequently replaced at the Milltown service halt, where he trailed McNulty by a minute 37.1 seconds. Fisher was third and losing ground in the conditions that were more favourable to the WR cars, indeed, his third spot was coming under threat from Aaron MacHale.

The rally took a decisive turn on S.S. 12 when McNulty's Subaru ground to a halt with transmission trouble. Remarkably, Cronin was the new leader of the rally - 29.5 seconds ahead of Fisher with MacHale a mere 2.3 seconds behind.

On the final pair of stages, Cronin remained calm and duly won his first ever international event, ending a 25-year wait since the last Cork driver, Billy Coleman (Ford Escort G3) won the 1985 event. In addition, Cronin's co-driver, Helen O'Sullivan is the first female to win the event.

Afterwards, at the finish ramp at the Gleneagle Hotel, Cronin remarked: 'I'm absolutely thrilled, ever since I was a boy in dreamt about winning the Rally of the Lakes, it was the first rally that I competed in back in 1981. The last stage was nerve wrecking because you never know what's going to happen in rallying until you cross the finish line. There's no doubt, it's the highlight of my rallying career, to win an international event, especially, the Rally of the Lakes, is absolutely phenomenal.'

MacHale, duly reeled in Fisher on S.S. 13 and went on to finish in the runner up spot while Craig Breen, who punched in the best time on Caragh Lake (S.S. 13), took third after Fisher lost time when he hit a bank and punctured his Mitsubishi on the final stage.

Consolation for the fourth placed Fermanagh ace was the lead of the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship. Paul Bird (Ford Focus WRC) finished fifth. Meanwhile, Brian O'Mahony (Renault Clio) enjoyed better fortune in his tyre selection and he went on to finish sixth, setting some strong times along the way. The top ten was completed by Colm Murphy (Subaru), Rob Barrable (Citroen C2R2), Thomas Fitzmaurice (Mitsubishi) and Marty McCormack (Citroen C2R2).

1. D. Cronin and H. O'Sullivan (Subaru WRC) 1h. 51m. 49.8s; 2. A. MacHale and E. O'Donnell (Ford Focus WRC) 1h. 52m. 26.3s; 3. C. Breen and G. Roberts (Ford Fiesta S2000) 1h. 53m. 12.8s; 4. A. Fisher and R. Kennedy (Mitsubishi Evo9) 1h. 53m. 59.3s; 5. P. Bird and K. Riddick (Ford Focus WRC) 1h. 55m. 30.7s; 6. B. O'Mahony and J. Higgins (Renault Clio S1600) 1h. 57m. 20.6s; 7. C. Murphy and D. Montgomery (Subaru) 1:h. 57m. 27.3s; 8. R. Barrable and D. Connolly (Citroen C2R2) 1h. 58m. 31.9s; 9. T. Fitzmaurice and F. Foley (Mitsubishi Evo9) 1h. 58m. 32.7s; 10. M. McCormack and D. Roberts (Citroen C2R2) 1h. 58m. 42.2s.

Organisers of the Cork '20' International Rally, the final round of the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship series, have announced that their event will be based at the Silversprings Moran Hotel, Cork. The Munster Car Club promoted event takes place on October 2nd and 3rd next. The last time the Cork '20' was based in the Silversprings was in 1998 when the event was won by Ian Greer (Toyota Celica GT4), who claimed his inaugural victory in a round of the Tarmac championship.

British Rally champion, Keith Cronin, competes in the Manx Telecom Rally that begins this Friday evening with five stages. The Ballylickey ace is using the event for experience of the Manx roads ahead of the BRC round, the Rally Isle of Man, later in the season. The event concludes on Saturday with a further nine stages.

Cronin and co-driver, Barry McNulty, are seeded at number two in their Pirelli backed Subaru. Paul Bird and Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC) are the top seeds.

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