GIVEN the circumstances, Keith Cronin’s comment at the finish of the recent Jim Clark Rally in Scotland, after he finished second, was pretty apt.
‘That (second place) was the best we could have hoped for starting the rally. I was kind of expecting that Adrien (Fourmaux) would get us all by a lot at the start and he did,’ Cronin said.
It was a tale of contrasting circumstances as Cronin concentrates on the expansion of the family business, Adrien Fourmaux is dovetailing his British Rally Championship (BRC) bid with outings in the World Rally Championship with the M-Sport works team.
The Scottish event was the second round of the BRC, the opening round 11 weeks previous saw Fourmaux beat Cronin by 53.5 seconds on the Malcolm Wilson Rally.
After the eighth and final stage of the Jim Clark Rally, the order was the same but Fourmaux’s winning margin was 29 seconds and that included a ten-second penalty added to Cronin’s overall time.
With four BRC titles under his belt, Cronin is a seasoned campaigner and his pre-event prediction came to pass with telling effect on Friday evening’s pair of stages – a double run over the Longformacus 11.78 mile stage.
Fourmaux – with WRC outings in Mexico, Croatia and Portugal since the BRC opener – was in the groove immediately and he took 12 seconds out of Cronin, who opined at the stage finish, ‘That was my first tarmac stage in a long time, it was hard enough to get into it at the start but I think it was bit better towards the end.’
It was also the first time in six years since he was on a Michelin tyre on tarmac. Cronin, co-driven by Killarney’s Mikie Galvin, was actually in third place, 4.5 seconds behind Scotland’s Eaun Thorburn (VW Polo GTi R5).
The repeat stage was under the cover of darkness and Fourmaux showed the opposition a clean pair of heels when he clocked a time 6.8s faster than his opening run. Cronin (who also clocked a better time in the dark, 2.7s faster than his first time) was second fastest to move into second spot, 28.1 seconds behind Fourmaux.
‘It was a bit better. I’m still not getting into it. I’m braking too early in places. It’s difficult to get myself up to the pace I need to be at when I’m not sitting in the car that often,’ he explained.
Saturday’s itinerary was two runs over a loop of three stages. With the stages all around seven miles in length, it was always going to be difficult to make inroads to Fourmaux. All of Cronin’s three stage times were quicker than Fourmaux, yet for all the effort, Cronin could only cut the deficit to 24.3 seconds with Fourmaux very much in control of his own destiny.
On SS6, Fourmaux gained a tenth of a second on the Ballylickey driver, who was 2.5 seconds better than the Frenchman on the penultimate stage only to incur a ten-second penalty applied by the organisers for hitting a chicane bale – many others also incurred the same penalty that was described as ‘subjective.’ That penalty dropped Cronin to third but he reeled in Thorburn on the final stage to regain second.
The next round of the championship is the Ardeca Ypres Rally on June 23rd/24th, however, Cronin is uncertain if he will contest that particular event that is located some 30 minutes from Fourmaux’s home.
‘We’ll take the year rally by rally. I’m not sure if we’ll go to Ypres (Belgium) yet. It’s a long way to travel for us. We might wait for the one after,’ he said.
The ‘one after’ is, of course, the Newry-based Ulster Rally that dovetails as the final round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
It’s not Keith Cronin’s fault that apart from Fourmaux, the quality of this season’s BRC is not as competitive as it’s halcyon days. Conversely, from his perspective, he’s somewhat unlucky that he has to compete against a works driver, who plies his trade in the WRC.
There are many observers – experienced and indeed otherwise – that feel Cronin should be plying his wares in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. There’s no doubt that it would be a fascinating prospect.
Winner of the last two rounds of the ITRC, Callum Devine, who won the Circuit of Ireland and the Rally of the Lakes, told The Southern Star: ‘It would be nice to see him back, he was the one driver I looked up to when I was young, he’s always a big attraction. It would be great to see him in the Tarmac series next year.’
Cronin was the first driver to win the Irish Tarmac Championship in a R5 car; he won the series in 2016 in a Citroen DS3 R5 when Clonakilty Blackpudding were the title sponsor.
Cronin’s British Rally Championship campaign is supported by Molson Group, M O'Brien Group of Companies, Michelin Tyres, Keohane Seafoods, Cremin Coach & Mini Bus Hire, Inver Energy, Cronin’s Homevalue Hardware, Cronin’s Centra (Ballylickey, Leap and Union Hall) and Westlink Service Station.
Result: 1. A. Fourmaux/A. Coria (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 57m. 41.0s; 2. K. Cronin/M. Galvin (VW Polo R5)+29.0s; 3. E. Thorburn/P. Beaton (VW Polo R5)+ 29.2s; 4. J. Ford/N. Shanks (Citroen C3 Rally2)+57.5s; 5. D. Henderson/C. Lees (Ford Fiesta Rally2)+1m. 14.2s; 6. N. Roskell/A. Roughead (Ford Fiesta Rally2)+2m. 32.4s.
British Rally Championship (provisional points after Round 2): 1.A. Fourmaux/A. Coria 55pts; 2. K. Cronin/M. Galvin 36pts; 3. C. Black/J. Morton 25pts; 4. E. Payne/T. Woodburn 15pts.