SUCH was the drama, it’s difficult to know where to start but perhaps the finish is the best place as Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin landed a fourth British Rally Championship title in the most absorbing and pulsating circumstances on Saturday afternoon last.
His DMACK shod M-Sport prepared and run Ford Fiesta R5 came out on top in what was a titanic struggle over the three days of the 138.com Rally Isle of Man that counted as a double round of the Prestone British Rally Championship.
The penultimate round was based on the first 11 stages (five on Thursday and six on Friday).
Cronin made the perfect start and led Edwards by 1.4 seconds with Ahlin 1.9 seconds further behind in third. Although the margins were tight, the trend continued. Overnight, he led Edwards by 7.2 seconds with Ahlin 15.9 further behind.
A pair of fastest times early on Friday morning saw Cronin consolidate his position. However, an excursion through a hedge ripped the front wing from the M-Sport Fiesta. Although Cronin extended his lead to 23.9 seconds when Edwards spun on SS 9, the Welsh driver’s indiscretion allowed Ahlin close to within 9.4 seconds.
In an effort to bring the event back on schedule, SS 10 was cancelled. On what was the final stage of the round seven, Edwards was quickest but Cronin took maximum championship points. Ahlin, who had some differential woes, finished a further 37.1 seconds adrift.
On the final round, Edwards set the initial pace, albeit a few seconds faster than Cronin, who edged ahead by 1.5 seconds on SS 16 with Ahlin 27.3 seconds behind.
The top duo traded top spot before Cronin regained the advantage after SS 18 to lead by 3.5 seconds.
The drama was about to reach a crescendo. Stage 19 featured a loop system, Cronin caught the Ford Fiesta R5 of Welsh ace Hugh Hunter and vital lost time.
With two stages remaining he trailed Edwards by 9.4 seconds.
Stage 20, the penultimate stage, offered Cronin some redemption and an opportunity to reduce if not overturn the deficit. More drama: a herd of cows on the stage forced Cronin and Edwards to stop. For a time, the results were, in rallying terms, ‘all over the place’. Eventually, the stage was neutralised leaving Cronin still trailing Edwards by 9.4 seconds with the query on his time for SS 19 still outstanding.
Classic West Baldwin, a 13.19-mile stage, provided the answers. Cronin powered his way through and clocked a time of 11 minutes and 20.6 seconds and he began the agonising wait. As Edwards swept into view, it was impossible to confirm the situation with the accuracy needed. When the times were confirmed, Cronin and Galvin took a huge sigh of relief – they had just become the 2017 Prestone British Rally Champions.
Ahlin actually set the best stage time but by then it was academic, Cronin had virtually done the impossible – a final round win by a tenth of a second and the BRC by one single point.
Champions are often measured in such fine margins.
Keith Cronin knew what it was like to lose a rally by a tenth of a second (Donegal International 2016), and now he knows what it’s like to win by the same margin.