Round three of the MSA British Rally Championship, the Pirelli International Rally based in Carlisle, started on Friday night with two stages in the infamous Kielder forest complex. It was Jarkko Nikara who set the early pace in his Citroën DS3 R3, holding the overnight lead from an inspired Elfyn Evans in his R2 class Fiesta. Keith Cronin and Marshall Clarke however were just 0.8 seconds behind Elfyn, and contesting their first stages in their brand new Autosport Technology built DS3.
Early dramas were already in store however, and Bulldog Rally winner Tom Cave was back in his own DS3, but lacking confidence in his settings on the loose tracks. He was back in ninth place, but team-mate Osian Pryce suffered a spin on stage one, and a loose turbo pipe on stage 2. Worse was to come however as Osian retired with fuel problems on stage 4. Carryduff’s Jonny Greer limped to the end of stage one with a puncture losing vital seconds, but he gradually speeded up as he softened the suspension of his DS3 on day two and eventually finished tenth overall. Fellow Northern Ireland driver Desi Henry was also suffering, with a gearbox mounting breaking on stage one, causing them to tackle stage two stuck in third gear. More time loss followed on day two with a coil failure and a puncture on stage 14, costing minutes and their 16th place finish didn’t reflect their efforts on the stages when things were going well. Desi is still honing his gravel skills event by event, and despite the issues left the event happy that he had made some improvements on that front. He also has the consolation of leading the Citroën Racing Trophy UK after three rounds. The drama continued on the Pirelli Rally as James Grint, slid wide and was stuck for seven minutes. James and co-driver Phil Clarke had to round up some spectators to get the car off the ditch and eventually ended the event in 18th place.
The battle at the front however was set to escalate as Keith Cronin mounted an early morning charge. “It took me a while to settle in with the new car on the first night,” commented Keith. “The team did a great job to get the car ready and although we completed the shake-down, it wasn’t really representative of the stages ahead, so I was still adjusting the suspension a lot during the weekend. There was a lot of loose gravel on the top of the roads, so the cars were sliding a lot.” On the day’s opener he climbed ahead of Nikara, but the lead was to change again on stage 5, Keith suffered a deflating tyre and the ever sideways Nikara nipped ahead. However by the lunch time service halt it was Cronin who was back in the lead by just 1.5 seconds. In third place now was Mark Donnelly, the first round winner in his Clio R3, but Mark was happy to maintain that place, as the Renault was suffering a leaking shock absorber. Previous round winner Tom Cave just couldn’t get into the groove on the event, and ended the rally in 9th, but the race for victory was on as 8.2 seconds separated Cronin and Nikara going into the final stage.
In the end gear selection problems blunted Jarkko’s Nikara’s attack for victory on the final 11.5 mile stage, but for Keith Cronin it was his second victory on the Pirelli International Rally, although last time he had the luxury of four wheel drive. “I am getting used to front wheel drive better now,” claims Keith. “I feel my driving is a lot better through the fast stuff and it was a great race this weekend with Jarkko. The team have done a great job with both cars this weekend, and to win the €6000 Citroën Racing Trophy prize money is a massive bonus for our budget.”
Results Pirelli Rally 2012- Round Three MSA British Rally Championship
1 Keith Cronin/Marshall Clarke Citroën DS3 1hr29min51.3s
2 Jarkko Nikara/ Petri Nikara Citroën DS3 +17.2s
3 Mark Donnelly/Dai Roberts Renault Clio +1min50.9s
4 Elfyn Evans/ Phil Pugh Ford Fiesta +2min41.3s
5 Peter Taylor/ Andrew Roughead Renault Clio +2min47.4s
Manufacturer Standings after Round Three
1 Citroën UK 109 points
2 Renault UK 91 points
3 Ford Motor Co 88 points
Citroen Racing Trophy UK Drivers Points after Round Three
1 Desi Henry 47 points
2 Keith Cronin 38
3 Tom Cave 36
4 Jarkko Nikara 34
5 Osian Pryce 33
6 Johnny Greer 29
7 James Grint 25