BY MARTIN WALSH
FOUR-TIME British Rally champion Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin marked their debut with the PCRS run Hyundai i20 R5 with a third-place finish on Saturday’s Carlisle based Pirelli Rally, the opening round of the Prestone British Rally Championship.
At the finish of the eight-stage rally in the Kielder forests Cronin/Galvin just lost out on second place and while initially the margin to the Skoda Fabia R5 of Rhys Yates/Elliott Edmondson was shown as 3.3 seconds, it was later amended to a mere 1.3 seconds.
The event was won by Matt Edwards/Darren Garrod (Ford Fiesta R5).
With only a brief test in the Hyundai i20 R5 Cronin made the perfect start and led the Skoda Fabia of Derry’s Marty McCormack by 6.4 seconds after the opening stage. A stage later Edwards moved ahead and went on to claim his first win in the Prestone British Rally Championship series.
With a fastest time on S.S, 4 Cronin cut the lead to just a single second and appeared to have secured second place only to be denied on the final stage.
Indeed, as the Cork driver began to get familiar with the Hyundai i20 R5 and the Michelin tyres, both for the first time, he lost vital seconds on S.S. 6 negotiating a chicane bale and had to reverse to get out of trouble.
Nevertheless and unlike his previous title bids, Cronin’s haul of third placed points is a tremendous boost as he bids to equal series history maker Jimmy McRae as a five time British champion.
Afterwards, Cronin commented, ‘It was a really late deal to get us here and we didn’t have much time to test the car so it left us on the back foot slightly.
‘Naturally, I was a bit disappointed to lose out on the last stage but everything on the car was great, maybe I was a little rusty and I needed more seat time. Compared to the first three events last year I feel we have a better start to build on this year. Hopefully before Ypres we can fine tune things and get us ready for the Tarmac and go forward.’
Meanwhile, five times Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly, who brokered the deal, remarked, ‘We were hoping for a top three finish so it’s mission accomplished in that context.
‘After stage one when we saw Keith’s and Mikie’s performance we knew the package was working well and it was a case for them to get mileage and experience of the car. I am delighted with the start.
‘A big thanks to PCRS, Hyundai Customer Racing and Michelin for all their efforts, especially to PCRS and all the crew for getting the car ready at such short notice.’
Scotland’s David Bogie crashed his Skoda Fabia R5 out of the rally on the opening stage while McCormack, second to Cronin on the opening stage, had to nurse his Skoda Fabia R5 to the finish due to a gearbox issue.
Results: 1. Matt Edwards (GBR)/Darren Garrod (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 – 1h. 14m. 03.6s. 2. Rhys Yates (GBR)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Skoda Fabia R5 +20.5s. 3. Keith Cronin (IRL)/Mikie Galvin (IRL) Hyundai i20 R5 +21.8s. 4. Marty McCormack (GBR)/David Moynihan (IRL) Skoda Fabia R5 +1m. 02.8s 5. Jonny Greer (GBR)/Kirsty Riddick (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +1:29.8s 6. Alex Laffey (GBR)/Patrick Walsh (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +5:18.7s
Prestone British Rally Championship (Drivers’ Standings after Round 1): 1. M. Edwards 25 points; 2. R. Yates 18 pts; 3. K. Cronin 15pts; 4. M. McCormack 12pts; 5. J. Greer 10pts & 6. T. Preston 9pts.