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Keith Cronin continues Tarmac title bid on marathon Donegal International Rally

June 21st, 2024 8:30 AM

By Martin Walsh

Keith Cronin continues Tarmac title bid on marathon Donegal International Rally Image
Keith Cronin on his way to winning this year's Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally.

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THE Donegal International Rally, probably the toughest event within the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, takes place this weekend over three days and 20 special stages in north Donegal.  

The Letterkenny-based rally is the fifth round of the series where Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin lead title protagonists Matt Edwards and Callum Devine.

The outcome of the event will have a key bearing on the destiny of the 2024 title.  

Cronin (Ford Fiesta Rally2) and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin made a stunning start to the series with wins on the Galway International and the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally followed by second place on the Circuit of Ireland and fourth on the Assess Ireland Rally of the Lakes.

It could have been so different on the last two rounds – tyre choice proved decisive on the Circuit where he finished 14.1 seconds behind Edwards (Ford Fiesta Rally2), who netted his first win of the current campaign. In Killarney, Cronin had built a significant advantage of 33.3 seconds after six stages until his Ford Fiesta Rally2 collected a puncture on SS7 and dropped a minute and 46.6 seconds off the lead. With fastest times on all bar one of the remaining seven stages he recovered to finish fourth.  

Currently, Cronin has a 13.5 point lead over Edwards with Devine (VW Polo GTi R5), who won in Killarney, 17.5 points further behind in third. The series is based on the best five scores from the seven events that also include the Ulster Rally and the Cork ‘20’ International Rally, both during the month of August.

Cronin is the only one of the title chasing trio to have finished in the top four of the events thus far and that could be crucial. For now though, the focus is on Donegal, where it’s been eight years since he competed in the north-west. On that occasion and steering a Citroen DS3 R5, he lost out by a mere 0.5 of a second to the much more powerful Subaru WRC of the late Manus Kelly, who overturned a 9.3-second deficit on the final stage to take victory. Cronin went on to claim the 2016 Irish Tarmac Championship – the first driver to take the title in the R5 (now Rally2) era.

‘Donegal isn’t necessarily about being the fastest as I have seen over the last few years watching the event. Anything can happen – the weather can also play a part. The three days are hard on cars,’ Cronin commented.  

Citing the adage of ‘you don’t win Donegal on the first day but you certainly could lose it’, Cronin referenced his misfortune in Killarney as a typical example of the fickleness of rallying before adding, ‘Callum (Devine) and Matt (Edwards) have gone well in Donegal over the last few years. Competing against each other, they have brought each other on to a new level. Josh (Moffett) goes well there too.’

Cronin outlined his plan: ‘It’s all about staying in touch and making sure one is there or thereabouts on the Sunday. I think Callum and Matt’s most recent experience of the event will have a bearing on the outcome. It's a long, long rally for sure, 275 stage kilometres, there’s so many things that can go against you, so we may perhaps take a more gradual approach than we have for some of the other rounds so far.’ 

Of the championship chasing trio, Devine, given that he has to count all his remaining scores following his retirements from the West Cork and the Circuit, really needs a victory to boost his bid to retain the Tarmac title. Edwards will take confidence from previous outings in Donegal and could prove to be Cronin’s principal title rival. Drivers such as Josh Moffett, Desi Henry (Citroen C3 Rally2) and Cathan McCourt (Ford Fiesta Rally2) could split the championship chasing trio and add further intrigue to the series.

Meanwhile, other local interest includes Kilnamartyra co-driver JJ Cremin, who partners Donegal’s Stuart Darcy (VW Polo GTi R5); they are seeded at No. 20.  The Pike’s Peter Keohane competes with Youghal’s Jason Ryan (Toyota Starlet) and Dunmanway’s Ger O’Connell (Ford Escort) is seeded at No. 128.

Three local co-drivers are involved in the Historic category with Ardfield’s Anthony O’Sullivan partnering Welsh driver Meirion Evans (Ford Escort RS1800); Ballyvourney’s Meabh Griffin calling the pace notes for Charleville’s Walter Dick (Ford Escort) and Clondrohid’s Eoghan McCarthy competes with UK driver Alan Watkins (Ford Escort).

The Donegal International Rally starts this Thursday evening with the ceremonial start in the town centre in Letterkenny. The only withdrawal from the top end is that of Monaghan’s Sam Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5), who was seeded at number five. The top ten starters are: 1. Callum Devine/Noel O'Sullivan (VW Polo GTi R5); 2. Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (Ford Fiesta Rally 2); 3. Matt Edwards/David Moynihan (Ford Fiesta Rally2); 4. Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Citroen C3 Rally2); 6. Meirion Evans/Ger Conway (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2); 7. David Kelly/Dean O'Sullivan (VW Polo GTi R5); 8. Desi Henry/Shane Byrne (Citroen C3 Rally2); 9. Declan Boyle/Patrick Walsh (Citroen C3 Rally2); 10. Cathan McCourt/Brian Hoy (Ford Fiesta Rally2); 11: Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy (Ford Fiesta Rally2).


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