BY MARTIN WALSH
KEITH Cronin’s return to the British Rally Championship on the recent Nicky Grist Rally in Wales was disrupted by a puncture and a few spins that cost well in excess of a minute.
Co-driven by Killarney’s Mikie Galvin in the Hankook liveried Ford Fiesta R5 Mk II, they finished tenth overall.
Indeed, all of the Irish contingent had a tough time, especially against the Welsh drivers who dominated the event and occupied the top three places.
The eight-stage event was won by Matt Edwards in his Mel Evans-prepared VW Polo GTi R5, who finished five seconds ahead of Tom Cave (Ford Fiesta Rally2). Another Welsh driver Osian Pryce (co-driven by Killarney’s Noel O’Sullivan) brought his VW Polo GTi R5 home in third.
Cronin/Galvin were on course to finish as the top Irish crew, but a sixth-stage puncture denied them the opportunity as Monaghan’s Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5) and Wexford’s Andy Hayes took that accolade.
On the short 3.5-mile opening stage Llyn Login, Pryce/O’Sullivan set the pace with Cave a second behind followed by Rhys Yates and Edwards, all in single seconds behind each other. Cronin was the top Irish driver, five seconds off the lead.
The organisers were forced to temporarily stop the stage due to a spectacular but frightening accident that saw Ollie Mellors/Max Freeman roll their Proton Iriz R5. The car was fully airborne and out of line high in the sky before it landed awkwardly and then rolled some 13 times before it stopped. Luckily, both occupants escaped serious injury. Matthew Wilson, Sam Moffett and Keith Cronin were all held at the start line until the scene was cleared.
On the remaining three stages of the opening loop, Cronin was sixth, sixth and tenth. On the latter (SS 4) he had a time-consuming spin and arrived at the service park in sixth place overall, 44 seconds behind rally leader Edwards, who is aiming to win the BRC for a third time. Edwards had a slight misfire in his VW Polo GTi R5.
Cronin commented: ‘We picked a soft compound tyre for those four stages but we should have gone for a medium compound. It was also my first time driving on that type of tyre. We had a few spins and that didn’t help.’
With new tyres and the correct compound, Cronin made an immediate improvement on SS 5, a repeat of SS 1. The four-time British champion slashed six seconds off his previous time and, in terms of stage time, was only three seconds shy of stage winner and rally leader Edwards.
Naturally, the performance put the West Cork ace in good stead for SS 6, Halfway, however, within three miles, his Fiesta – that also has support from Michael O'Brien Group of Companies, Rentokil Initial, Cremin Coaches, Cronin’s Centra and Cronin’s Homevalue – suffered a front-right wheel puncture.
‘I really don’t know where we picked it up. There were a few rocky spots and it probably was at one of those ruts. It was unfortunate, really. Then we had to be careful as we had only one spare wheel left to complete the event,’ Cronin explained.
On the penultimate stage Cronin punched in the fifth fastest stage time. He spun and lost more time on the final stage and was classified tenth overall.
‘I was disappointed with the puncture and, I suppose, the tyre choice,’ Cronin said.
‘The first good run we had was the stage after service (SS 5) but we couldn’t build on that when we got the puncture. I think if we had the right tyre choice in the morning we could have been building it (the pace) from there. Look, it is what it is this year, we will be learning. We know very little about the tyres at the moment. The stages were short and snappy really and the Welsh lads know them well. It would be like them coming down to West Cork to compete against us.’
Meanwhile, Edwards, having sorted the misfire, set three more fastest stage times to claim the victory and the points that elevated him into the lead of the series. The next round of the series is the Grampian Rally in Scotland on August 14th. The 44-mile event is based near Aberdeen.
RESULTS – Nicky Grist Rally (Round 2, British Rally Championship) Builth Wells, Wales: 1. M Edwards/D Garrod (VW Polo GTi R5) 42m 30s; 2. T Cave/D Furniss (Ford Fiesta Rally 2) 42m 35s; 3. O Pryce/Noel O’Sullivan (VW Polo R5) 42m 42s; 4. R Yates/J Morgan (Ford Fiesta R5 MkII) 43m 26s; 5. M Wilson/S Loudon (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 43m 30s. 6. E Payne/C Fair (Ford Fiesta R5) 44m 11s; 7. J Moffett/A Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5) 44m 22s; 8. S Petch/M Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC) 44m 34s; 9. S Moffett/K Moriarty (Ford Fiesta R5 MkII) 44m 41s; 10. K Cronin/M Galvin (Ford Fiesta R5 MkII) 44m 55s.
British Rally Championship (positions after Round 2): 1. M Edwards 37points; 2. R Yates 34pts; 3. S Moffett 31pts; 4. O Pryce 30pts; 5. T Cave 18pts; 6. J Moffett 14pts.