BOTH as a driver and in his professional life as an accountant, precision is always key to Keith Cronin’s decision-making. Everything is a calculated formula for the Ballylickey driver.
The four-time British Rally champion still hasn’t decided on his plans for the current season.
In the year just past, he missed out on a record-equalling fifth British Rally Championship title as Welsh ace Osian Pryce wrapped up what was his inaugural title on the penultimate round.
Cronin isn’t someone that ponders on what could have or may have been, and for good reason.
‘In reality, I don’t really get time to look back at it. There is a lot going on at work,’ he said.
That is not to say he dismisses his endeavours with a shrug of his shoulders. He knows the opening round Corbeau Seats Tendring and Clacton Rally where he lost to Pryce by just 5.4 seconds and the Get Connected Rali Ceredigion (Round 5) where he rolled his VW Polo GTi out of the event led to his downfall.
It's easy to be critical and put that opening round loss down to tyres. Cronin, just like the previous season, was on a Hankook tyre, but were it not for the South Korean manufacturer, he would not have been rallying in 2021 when he returned to the sport after a three-year hiatus.
Cronin was helping to develop the tyre but when things didn’t materialise to his satisfaction at the beginning of the 2022 season, it was time for change.
Testing and developing is one thing but Cronin still harboured that strong desire to win.
‘In business or sport, you have to make decisions that won’t always make everyone happy. I still wanted to win the championship. I made a decision to change and it proved right,’ Cronin explained.
He won first time out on Pirelli rubber.
While he won his fourth title with a DMAC tyre, progression within the Hankook brand didn’t really happen on a pace that Cronin required. Of course he was also in a new car. His four titles have come onboard Mitsubishi, Subaru, Citroen and Ford Fiesta; a feat no other driver has achieved. The decision to move to the VW Polo was relatively straight forward.
‘While there’s not that much between any of the cars, globally the Polo seemed to be the most successful,’ he remarked.
In planning any championship, the budget is the determining factor. This year’s British Rally Championship doesn’t include the West Cork Rally, though it was in the mix at one point. Instead, the seven-round campaign features events in England (2), Scotland, Belgium, Northern Ireland and Wales (2), all between early March and late October. He didn’t need to be asked what he thought; a quick look at the map by anybody would have brought his exact response.
‘It’s not ideal,’ he said.
It is a lot of time away from work and West Cork. Yet, he understands why championship organisers have to think outside the box.
‘The numbers (contesting the series) in 2022 weren’t great, so you can’t blame them for trying something different.’
It would have been more palatable were the series to start in Clonakilty, and it might have sped up the decision-making process.
As we move towards the new season, Cronin proffers an honest assessment.
‘It’s down to budget. At the moment I have nothing in place. We are still looking,’ he explained.
His demeanour suggests he still has the desire to succeed. However, he admits, ‘Now, it is harder to give it the same level of dedication and commitment. Competitors are putting in more preparation than they ever did. I have to match that at least.’
Only a few realise the level of detail needed and even less know exactly what’s involved. Many of Keith Cronin’s sponsors are there through loyalty and relationships that have been built up over many years. One has only to look at triple champion Welshman Matt Edwards, who failed to put the resources together for a BRC campaign in 2022.
Cronin is also very conscious that three of his younger brothers are also on the motorsport merry-go-round. Daniel’s endeavours, also yet to be finalised, won’t have any major bearings on Keith’s plan.
‘I think we can work around that. My priority is the younger guys (Colin and Robert). I would rather work with them and make the right decisions by them rather than myself,’ he said, before concluding, ‘The next two or three weeks will tell a lot.’