IRISH crews took two of the top three overall places in the M-Sport Rally in the forests of Greystoke in Cumbria.
Cork’s Keith Cronin and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin took their Hankook backed Ford Fiesta R5 Mk.II to third overall and second in the R5 category in what was their first outing in over three years.
The event was won by Monaghan’s Josh Moffett and his Wexford co-driver Andy Hayes in a Ford Fiesta WRC.
Moffett took the lead on S.S. 7 and finished this (Sunday) afternoon’s second leg of four stages with a winning margin of 13 seconds over British crew Rhys Yates/Max Freeman (Ford Fiesta R5 Mk. II) with Cronin/Galvin a minute and three seconds further behind in third.
On the first of Saturday’s six stages, Cronin occupied sixth place - 18 seconds behind rally leader Welsh ace Rhys Yates, also in a similar Fiesta.
By S.S. 3, the Ballylickey driver was up into fourth place. S.S. 4 was cancelled and on the day’s final pair of stages Cronin’s pace was greatly improved, his stage time was only five seconds behind Yates on both stages.
Monaghan’s Josh Moffett in a Fiesta WRC held second spot - seven seconds behind Yates and 47 ahead of Cronin. Churchtown native Michael O’Brien and his Blackpool co-driver Liam Brennan in a ’07 specification Ford Focus WRC were 13th overnight and finished 29th.
In today’s final leg of four stages, Cronin continued to get closer to the stage times set by Yates.
Encouragingly, he was only five and three seconds behind him on the respective penultimate and final stage.
“For sure, I didn’t expect to be this close so quickly given that it is over three years since I have driven a car on gravel.
"Now, to get from here to the sharp end is going to be the hard bit and will probably take longer - but it’s good to get where I am now.
"I know next week (competing on the Nicky Grist Rally in Wales, a round of the British Rally Championship) will be tough but we will have personnel from Hankook to advise us on the tyres," Cronin said.
Meanwhile, Waterford’s Craig Breen and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 R5) took second place in Rally Latvia as they claimed Team MRF Tyres’ first podium in the ERC. They finished 17.3 seconds behind Nikolay Gryazin (VW Polo GTi R5), who led from start to finish.
Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk (Citroen C3 Rally 2) was 13.6 seconds further behind in third. Derry’s Callum Devine (Ford Fiesta R5 Mk.II) was on the cusp of a top ten finish until he suffered a broken wheel on S.S. 8, he eventually finished down in 45th place.