BALLYLICKEY’S Daniel Cronin (VW Polo GTi R5) took a timely confidence-boosting victory in the recent Wexford Volkswagen Rally.
It was also a maiden tarmac stage rally win for his Dunmanway co-driver Donnchadh Burke. The pair were utilising the two-day event as preparation for their participation in the final two rounds of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship – next week’s Clare Rally and the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally on the October bank holiday weekend.
They finished the 18-stage rally one minute and 20.6s ahead of the Ford Fiesta of Cavan’s Gary Kiernan and his co-driver John McGrath, with Enniskerry’s Daniel Barry (Skoda Fabia R5) and co-driver Andy Hayes two minutes and 1.1s further adrift in third.
Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney and his Blackpool co-driver Liam Brennan, who held third place through the opening five stages, crashed out on Saturday’s final stage. Clonakilty’s Eamonn and Lisa McCarthy (Honda Civic) also failed to finish; they made their exit on Sunday’s second leg.
Cronin made the perfect start and set the pace on the opening stage, where conditions were dusty and at times slippery. He led the Hyundai i20 R5 of Longford’s Tommy Doyle by 4.9s with Jason McSweeney (Skoda Fabia R5) just three tenths of a second further behind in third. Former winner and the event’s top seed and favourite, James Stafford (Darrian T90 GTR) occupied fourth place, 8.8s behind Cronin. In warm conditions, Stafford was quickest on SS2 to slot into second, 3s behind Cronin and 3.3s ahead of McSweeney. Cronin reckoned the time he was credited with was around 8s slower than what he thought should have been his stage time. On the final stage of the loop, Cronin was quickest and increased his lead over Stafford to 5.8s, with McSweeney another 6.4s behind.
On the repeat loop of three stages, Stafford got in the groove and, posting the best times on all three stages, arrived at the day’s final service as rally leader. However, Cronin wasn’t letting the Wexford man out of his sights and the margin between them was only 1.7s. Tommy Doyle (Hyundai i20 R5) edged McSweeney out of third place – but even by then both had drifted from the leading duo as Doyle was 31.4s behind Cronin.
As the hot conditions continued, so too did Stafford’s pace and, clocking another trio of fastest stage times, he ended the day with a 12.8s lead over Cronin. Kiernan moved into third when Doyle spun a full 360 and lost over 30s. Unfortunately, McSweeney’s fine drive ended on the day’s final stage when he clipped a rock and damaged the front of his Skoda Fabia, forcing his retirement. As a result, Daniel Barry, in a similar Skoda, was fifth as Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien (VW Polo GTi R5’s) completed the top six.
Weather conditions were predicted to change for Sunday’s triple loop of three stages. However, the rain didn’t arrive for the opening loop, where Cronin was best through two of the morning’s opening two stages, trimming the deficit to 7.5s. Stafford got a reprieve when he was quickest on SS12 to lead by 9.2s – he was on familiar territory as one stage went past his home. Doyle’s rally ended on SS11 when his Hyundai hit a pole that damaged a wheel.
Rain arrived for the penultimate loop and Stafford dropped over a minute on SS13 as Cronin regained top spot and led the Wexford ace by just over a minute. Then, on SS14, clutch trouble put Stafford out of the rally. Cronin had a moment when he spun backwards into a wall and clattered the rear of his VW Polo GTi R5, damaging the exhaust in the process.
Arriving at the final service, Cronin had the cushion of a 1m 20.3s lead over Kiernan as Daniel Barry slotted into third, albeit a further 1m 35.9s behind. Cronin went on to claim his first major win since the Raven’s Rock Rally in 2018.
‘Today’s stages were much more technical, they were more twisty and more bumpy,’ he added, ‘after Stafford retired it was a case of pacing myself to the finish.’
Kiernan and Barry completed an unchanged top three. Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien (VW Polo GTi R5) finished fourth followed by Donegal’s Mark Alcorn (Escort), who won the modified category.
Results: 1. D Cronin/D Burke (VW Polo GTi R5) 2hrs 11mins 57.6secs, 2. G Kiernan/J McGrath (Ford Fiesta R5) +1:20.6s, 3. D Barry/A Hayes (Skoda Fabia R5) 3:21.7s, 4. E O'Brien/J Butler (VW Polo GTi R5) +4:48.4s, 5. M Alcorn/D O'Brien (Ford Escort) +6:17.9s, 6. R Moore/E Kennedy (Ford Escort) +7:21.3.