WITH fastest times on all but one of the eight stages, Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin, co-driven by Killarney’s Mikie Galvin, took his VW Polo GTi R5 to a 43.5-second victory in the Ballyvourney-based Munster Moonraker Rally.
They utilised the event, a round of the Motorsport Ireland Forest Rally Championship, as a shakedown ahead of this weekend’s Nicky Grist Rally in Wales, round three of the British Rally Championship as Cronin continues his bid to win the series for a record-equalling fifth title.
The Tyrone duo of Patrick and Stephen O’Brien (Skoda Fabia R5) were second with another Tyrone pairing Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey (Ford Fiesta R5) 20.2 seconds further behind in third. Meanwhile, in the J1000 category, Kerry’s Mossie Costello (Peugeot 107) took a final stage victory when long-time leader Jack Brennan (Skoda Citigo) punctured and dropped to eighth.
On the short opening 5.2 kilometre stage, Derreenaling, on the south side of the N22 that traversed parts of counties Cork and Kerry, O’Brien (Skoda Fabia R5) took a slender 1.8 second lead over Cronin (VW Polo GTi R5), who had a moment near the stage finish when he was distracted by the interior light fitting falling down.
Tyrone’s Niall McCullagh (Ford Fiesta R5) was 7.5 seconds further adrift in third. Cronin was best through the 8.9 km Curragh stage to cut the deficit to a mere half-second with McCullagh, who reckoned he took time to get to the pace of the rally, 17.6 seconds further back.
On the repeat of both stages, Cronin settled into a good flow and moved ahead with rival O’Brien hitting trouble. Before the halfway point of S.S. 3, the rear right wheel of O’Brien’s Skoda punctured and he endured a big spin a few metres later and lost time and a place.
With much more grip, Cronin was able to get into a rhythm and on S.S. 4, took some ten seconds off his previous time to extend his lead to 32.7 seconds. New second-placed driver McCullagh was quite content with his pace and wasn’t prepared to extend himself. O’Brien was third from Conor McCourt (Skoda Fabia R5), who set a steady pace. Jordan Hone (Ford Fiesta R5) and Derek Mackarel (Mitsubishi) - co-driven by Inchigeelagh’s Eamonn Creedon - completed the top six.
The afternoon stages featured a double run over Gleanndav (3.75km) and Knockbro (12.95km). Although Cronin was best on stages five and six, he reckoned he was losing grip in parts of both stages, he also reckoned his VW Polo GTi wasn’t totally sharp off the start line. His performance didn’t really suffer as he stretched his lead 42.2 seconds. O’Brien regained second but admitted his tyre choice was somewhat too soft.
McCullagh had no issues in third unlike McCourt, who admitted that he wasn’t as sharp as he could have been. Pre-event championship leader Jordan Hone (Fiesta R5) declared that parts of the stage covered by trees were extremely slippery but set-up changes made at service ensured the car was more responsive.
Mackarel, in sixth, had suspension trouble that were sorted at the final service and went to claim fifth. Cronin took victory in what was a valuable exercise ahead of this weekend’s BRC outing. The Monaghan crew of Mickey Conlon/Paul McPhillips (Ford Escort) won the two-wheel drive category.