BRC champion Keith Cronin admits WRC not on the cards
BY MARTIN WALSH
IT may come as surprise to know that four-time British Rally champion and winner of the 2016 Irish Tarmac Championship, Keith Cronin feels somewhat uneasy watching the World Rally Championship on television.
He’s much more at ease when its either rugby, GAA or Premiership football involving Manchester United. It would be easy to cite work as the reason, but it wouldn’t be correct.
‘Maybe I feel uncomfortable watching it, I watch every sport under the sun, but rallying is probably the sport I watch least,’ the Ballylickey ace revealed.
World Championship rallying is one of the few sporting spectrums where talent is not enough to guarantee participation not to mention possible success. If it were, then Cronin would be dining at the top table long ago. His success in this year’s British Championship series saw him join the great Roger Clark on the list of four-time British rally champions.
It was a nail-biting final double round on the Isle of Man where Keith and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin won the final event by a tenth of a second and the championship by one point, edging out Swedish star Fredrik Ahlin.
After landing the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship in 2016, Keith eventually set his sights on more familiar pastures.
‘We looked at a good few things but the M-Sport offer (a supported opportunity) to tackle the BRC had that value for money tag on it,’ he says.
Joining a professional team had obvious advantages.
‘Yes, it was great to work with M-Sport, everything was done for you, before and at the rallies. It was pretty much an arrive and drive arrangement. The guys on the ground were very good, it was like a family team in some ways,’ Keith explains, adding, ‘There was instant recognition because it was M-Sport but that also brought a bit of pressure as you were expected to win.”’
Prior to joining M-Sport, Cronin traded his ITC winning Citroen DS3 R5 for a Ford Fiesta R5. It was the logical progression given that he needed to get gravel miles under his belt in the same type of car.
On some rounds, Cronin’s BRC title bid ebbed rather than flowed but he remained resolute.
‘After poor events you feel like throwing in the towel, that’s human nature,’ he admitted.
‘However, when you look at the logic in motorsport and the points, there is always a chance which we proved at the end.’
The final two rounds on the Isle of Man attracted huge criticism in terms of organisational issues.
‘I have always liked the stages there but this is the first time I came across problems on the organisational side. One stage started an hour late and I had to start from a cold tyre sitting on the line; it wasn’t good. I was literally clearing the road in the dark and it wasn’t good from a safety aspect. But I had to get on with it,’ he says.
On a stage that had a double loop Cronin caught another competitor and lost around 30 seconds. On a later stage, cows broke out onto the road.
On the earlier rounds Cronin didn’t seem to have luck on his side – but that changed on the Isle of Man where he survived a high-speed excursion though a hedge.
‘Nothing goes through your mind in the moment,’ he says.
‘I think after it, I thought, “Yes, this championship could happen for me, I’m after getting away with this”.
‘It was a massive escape. It was one lapse in concentration, I went into a corner probably 30/40mph too fast.’
So, where to now? Sitting comfortably, he pauses before advancing his opinion on competing in the WRC and how he feels about it.
‘It’s more a fantasy than a dream,’ he admits.
‘Unless something comes out of the blue I will never have the money to compete there.
‘Of course it irritates me. You see guys that, while they are fast, you know you could compete against them and probably beat some of them given equal seat time and event experience.’
The pragmatism element cuts in once more.
‘Because they (drivers in the WRC) had the money behind them to get there, it is frustrating, but as I says this time last year if I had that money I would probably have done the same thing. There is no point in beating myself up about it,’ he explains.
Cronin’s BRC bid was funded by themselves, Mick O’Brien, Tria Oil and Cremin Coaches. Interestingly, there was no financial support from Motorsport Ireland. At this time, the lure of an equalling fifth British title appears to be the key to unlocking Cronin’s plan for 2018.
‘Knowing that you would match Jimmy McRae is great, but then you could stay fighting for that for the rest of your life and never get it. We’ll see,’ he says.
‘Whatever I do next year will all come down to budget. The BRC and the ITC start late so there is time. I am working on things directly with some teams and tyre manufacturers to see what is available.”
Paying tribute to Macroom’s Gerard Quinn for his involvement in getting the BRC deal over the line Cronin says.
‘He works under the radar a lot but he’s immense and does a brilliant job.’
Keith also acknowledged the efforts of his father Danny and that of Donal O’Donovan.
Christmas Day has come and gone, but in an ideal world what present would Keith have liked from Santa Claus: ‘A fully funded drive at the top of the WRC but realistically it would be nice to build experience of WRC events and then hopefully step up (from WRC2).’
His final comment: ‘Life is going on outside of rallying as well.’