Keith Cronin underlined why he is a four-time Motorsport UK British Rally Champion, setting fastest time on all but one stage of the Voyonic Grampian Forest Rally on Saturday [13 August] to secure a scintillating victory in Scotland and his second win of the season.
The Irishman, along with co-driver Mikie Galvin returned an impeccable performance over the event’s six stages in the searing summer heat, battling low-hanging dust to take his Pirelli-shod Volkswagen Polo to his first BRC win on gravel since 2012. It would be fellow Volkswagen pilot Osian Pryce who stole second place in a dramatic final stage thriller, battling with Ruari Bell till the last who would take his maiden BRC podium in third.
Every round of the championship this season has been a dry affair and the Grampian was no different. As the UK continued to bask in a lengthy heatwave, the blistering heat added to the challenge for the crews with the super-fast Kincardineshire forests just outside of Aberdeen providing a tough test on the dry and hard gravel stages.
Leading the field away was the Nicky Grist Rally winner Osian Pryce in his Michelin-backed Polo and he would have the distinct benefit of having no-one’s dust to follow and in a prime position to capitalise on his number one seed. But despite Cronin quite literally eating Pryce’s dust, he was fastest out of the blocks by three seconds from Bell on the opener and would never look back.
Racking up the stage wins with apparent ease, Cronin had amassed a ten-second lead by the first service of the day, increasing that to thirteen by the second, despite a joint scratch time on the fourth test from both Pryce and Bell. But he wouldn’t rest on his laurels, banging in a further two dazzling times to seal a valuable victory in his `Drive for Five` BRC title chase.
“It’s great to get the win, as I said at the start of the rally, we really did need it,” said a delighted Cronin.
“With the championship going to Wales next it is always going to be difficult to beat Osian at home so it was really important to get out front and manage it from there. Its our first BRC win on gravel in while too, so it feels good.”
“That’s exactly what we needed for the championship. At this level it’s not always enough to keep getting the podiums so it’s been a very important result. The changes we made from the last rally [to the car] seemed to have worked and the win could well prove vital for our championship. It’s been a great day for us”.
Whilst Cronin’s win was arguably straightforward, the battle behind him was far from simple.
Pryce’s Nicky Grist win meant he was arguably the favourite but found himself down in third and four seconds shy on the opening Durries test. That gap did nothing but open up during the day as he and Noel O’Sullivan couldn’t quite find the pace required to close in on the leader.
Heading into the last stage, Pryce was almost resigned to come away with third and salvage what points he could from a difficult day. But emerging from the final test, he did just enough to vault from third to second and grab more crucial points for his title campaign.
That place was at the expense of Bell and Max Freeman who have been searching for some luck all season long. It almost looked like it had arrived in Banchory just in time for his season to take an upturn, sitting in an impressive second overall for much of the event, only to take a trip into the Scottish ditches and trees on the final stage, just managing to emerge with third.
James Williams and Dai Roberts have shown a positive turn of pace in 2022 but have not been able to repeat their opening round podium in their Hyundai i20. A second fastest time on the Drumtochty test showed the capability, but another tough day in the office and the return of the niggles that have plagued him for the last few events, saw Williams take fourth and left ruing what could have been.
Taking his first BRC podium last month in Wales, Jason Pritchard has confessed to feeling more confident about his Polo on the gravel. With Phil Clarke alongside, Pritchard struggled in the Scottish tests with confidence and like many others, dust to round out to the top five. Andy Davies and Michael Gilbey took sixth in their Fiesta as they continue to adapt to their new machine and Davies’ debut BRC campaign.
It was a bitter end to Garry Pearson’s Grampian, sitting in fourth and within sight of the podium positions, the Scot got caught out on the penultimate stage of the event, sliding wide in his Hankook-equipped Fiesta Rally2 and ending his rally in a ditch. Elliot Payne’s BRC return would also be one to forget. Throttle issues in his Fiesta in the opener forced him off the road but it would be a severe oil leak that eventually ended his day prematurely.
It was as tight as it gets in the Junior BRC for much of the day with the battle between current series leader Eamonn Kelly and nearest challenger Kyle White. Both crews tied on times over the opening test before Kelly eked out a five-second advantage in the second in his Fiesta Rally4. White responded on the next in a tit-for-tat exchange and that was down to just one second ahead of the final loop.
But White’s charge ended on the penultimate test, ripping a brake line off his Peugeot 208 Rally4, allowing Kelly to relax over the final stage of the event and secure his and Conor Mohan’s second win to extend their Junior BRC lead.
Johnnie Mulholland and Eoin Treacy enjoyed second place in their Fiesta Rally4, continuing to build their pace as the season progresses, whilst Ioan Lloyd and Sion Williams were forced to use SuperRally after their Peugeot 208 Rally4 developed a fuel leak before the first stage, recovering to take third.
It was a familiar name at the top of the National Rally Title honours with Alan Carmichael and Arthur Kierans taking the spoils in their Hyundai i20, extending their championship lead in the process. William Mains and Dilwyn John sadly retired their Vauxhall Corsa with engine failure.
The British Rally Championship switches back to asphalt in just three weeks as the Get Connected Rali Ceredigion hosts round five in Wales.
Motorsport UK British Rally Championship Provisional Points – Overall After Round 4
1. Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin 86
2. Osian Pryce/Noel O’Sullivan 68
3. James Williams/Dai Roberts 45
4. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke 31
5. Garry Pearson/Dale Furniss 30
6. Eamonn Kelly/Conor Mohan 25
7. Ruairi Bell/Max Freeman 23
8. Elliot Payne/Patrick Walsh 22
9. Andy Davies/Michael Gilbey 18
10. Kyle White/Sean Topping 16