Sport

Cronin rolls in Wales but can still win record fifth BRC title

September 11th, 2022 1:00 PM

By Martin Walsh

Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (VW Polo GTi R5) on the weekend’s Rali Ceredigion, round five of the British Rally Championship. (Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography)

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A WEEKEND that began particularly well for Keith Cronin in his bid to win the British Rally Championship for a record-equalling fifth time ended in bitter disappointment when he crashed out of the Rali Ceredigion on the fourth and final stage of Saturday evening’s opening leg.

With his championship nemesis Welsh ace Osian Pryce (VW Polo GTi R5) going on to take maximum points Cronin drops seven points behind in the race for the title.

Pryce now has three outright wins to his credit as opposed to Cronin’s two wins. However, Cronin, who won the last of his four titles in dramatic circumstances on the Isle of Man Rally in 2017, can still lift the title should he win the final two rounds of the series - the Trackrod Rally (September 23rd/24th) and the Cambrian Rally (October 29th).

Prior to Friday’s four stages, Cronin revealed the addition of another sponsor with the Molson Group, the United Kingdom’s largest independent new and used heavy equipment dealer, joining forces with the team whose championship bid is also underpinned by the Michael O’Brien Group of Companies, Keohane Seafoods, Inver Energy, Cremin Coaches, Cronin’s Homevalue Hardware, Cronin’s Centra (Ballylickey, Leap and Union Hall) and Pirelli Tyres.

Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (VW Polo GTi R5) on last weekend’s Get Connected Rali Ceredigion. (Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography)

Rali Ceredigion, based in Aberystwyth, was the fifth round of the seven-event BRC campaign. It was also somewhat of home territory for title rival Pryce, as Cronin explained, ‘It’s like me competing in Killarney.’

Saturday evening’s opening pair of stages consisted of the double run over the short 0.9km Aberystwyth town stage. Town stages can be notoriously tricky and Cronin, co-driven by Killarney’s Mikie Galvin, got his VW Polo GTi R5 safely through both runs, second quickest each time to New Zealander Hayden Padden (Hyundai i20 R5) and was 1.4 seconds off the lead with Pryce occupying fourth spot, 1.5 seconds behind Cronin.

Out on the 5.31km third stage (Glan yr Afon) Cronin set the pace from BRC contender James Williams (Hyundai i20 R5), Meirion Evans (VW Polo GTi R5) Padden and Pryce, who was 6.8 seconds off Cronin’s time.  In the overall context, Cronin moved into a 4.4 seconds lead over Padden, who was followed by Williams and Pryce.

The final stage of the leg, the 18.28 kilometre Devils Bridge brought disaster for Cronin, who gave The Southern Star his thoughts.

‘It’s hugely disappointing. I was going hard obviously but it didn’t feel like I was taking any big risks,’ the Ballylickey driver said.

‘It was the same at the start of that stage, but the grip was a lot lower than I anticipated. We had it marked as a slippy corner but we didn’t expect it to be as slippery as it was. It was a corner on a crest and the car got a bit light. That, together with the low grip, it just understeered, caught a bale that turned us over.

‘It was very frustrating. As I said, genuinely, it didn’t feel like we were taking big risks.’

Pryce, running first on the road, completed the stage in a time of ten minutes 24.6 seconds that was subsequently awarded to Padden, Williams and Evans, as they were caught up in the Cronin incident.

Overnight, Padden led Williams by 1.8 seconds with Pryce 3.9 seconds off top spot. Evans retired his VW Polo GTi R5 with steering issues on the first of Sunday’s eight stages. Padden, with six fastest stage times during the day, went on to claim victory, 38.7 seconds ahead of Pryce and his Killarney co-driver Noel O’Sullivan, who took maximum (25) points in their quest for the BRC title. Williams was third with Londoner Ruari Bell (Skoda Fabia R5) fourth overall.

‘I’m over the moon with that one,’ Pryce said afterwards. ‘There were a number of people that could have taken the win this weekend but I’m really impressed with how everything has gone, I’m super happy with the car.’

The next round of the BRC series is the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire on September 23rd and 24th, with the final round, the Cambrian Rally, on October 29th. While there are a number of permutations depending on how both Cronin and Pryce fare on those events, Cronin can win the title should he win both events, irrespective of what Pryce achieves. It’s a situation that isn’t new for Cronin.

‘The first time I won it (2009) it was a winner take-all-situation. Look, we just have to regroup.’ he said.

BRC Provisional Points after Round 5: 1. Osian Pryce/Noel O'Sullivan 93 points; 2. Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin 86pts; 3. James Williams/Dai Roberts 63pts; 4. Garry Pearson/Dale Furniss 42pts; 5. R Bell/M Freeman 38pts; 6. E Kelly/C Mohan 33pts.

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