Cronin claims victory on Pirelli International Rally

Double British Rally Champion and former Pirelli Star Driver Keith Cronin claimed victory on this weekend’s Pirelli International Rally, the third round of the 2012 Pirelli-supported MSA British Rally Championship.

Set in the Kielder Forest complex close to the rally base in Carlisle, this year’s event marked the 21st anniversary of the rally run in collaboration with Pirelli: the championship’s official tyre supplier.  Competitors utilised Pirelli’s 15-inch K6 tyres for the two-day event, but as the weather remained dry, several crews also opted for Pirelli’s harder compound K4 tyres, which were on offer to the crews for the first time this year.

Jarkko Nikara set the pace on Friday in his Citroen DS3 R3, claiming two fastest stage times and leading the international category by 2.2 seconds going into day two. Cronin was third overall, 0.8 seconds behind second-placed Elfyn Evans.

Saturday’s opening stage, however, resulted in a storming stage time from Cronin who moved up to lead the Cumbria-based event. Nikara and Cronin were then locked in a gripping duel for the remainder of the rally, with the pair swapping positions on three separate occasions. At the end of stage six, the Citroen team-mates were separated by only 0.3 seconds, but four fastest stage times from Cronin saw the Irishman edge ahead and reach the finish 17.2 seconds quicker than Nikara.

After gathering confidence throughout the rally, round-one winner Mark Donnelly was delighted to claim third place in his Renault Clio R3. Following them home in fourth was former Pirelli Star Driver, Elfyn Evans at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R2. Evans’ fourth-place finish also launches the Welshman to the top of the drivers’ standings, three points ahead of Tom Cave, who now lies in second place.

Pirelli Star Driver Jukka Korhonen shone in his TEG-prepared Skoda Fabia R2 at the weekend, securing his best finish of the season with sixth overall, and second in class.

"It’s been a really good weekend, and I’ve had no problems,” said Korhonen, from Finland. “We had some knowledge of the roads from last year and some of the stages are very similar to the nature of the roads back in Finland so that has definitely helped. I’m looking forward to the next round of the championship, we’re not so familiar with driving on asphalt but we’re feeling ready for the challenge.”

After his sterling performance in a Ford Fiesta R2, 21-year-old Jussi Kumpumaki who is part of the Finnish Ford Junior Team, was presented with the coveted Pirelli yellow jersey and a nomination towards the end of season Pirelli Star Driver shoot out.

A one-two finish for Citroen this weekend has consolidated the French marque’s position at the top of the manufacturers’ standings. Donnelly’s third and Taylor’s fifth place mean Renault holds second place, while Ford remain third in the overall standings after a fourth and seventh place finish from Evans and Kumpumaki.

Carl Naylor, Pirelli Tyre UK motorsport manager, said: “Once again the new two-wheel-drive format for this year’s British Rally Championship has provided some extremely close and exciting rally action. With three different winners on three events, it is impossible to predict who will walk away with this year’s championship title. It will be all to play for in the season’s second half!”

Naylor added: “I’m thrilled with our Pirelli Star Driver, Jukka Korhonen’s performance – he regularly matched the pace of Elfyn Evans, and was the fastest R2 driver on several occasions. To finish second in class, and with his best result of the year so far is very encouraging at the season’s midway point.”

The fourth round of the 2012 Pirelli-supported MSA British Rally Championship will take place in June when the six-round rally series moves to the Scottish Borders for the Jim Clark International Rally, 1 – 3 June.

This year’s championship will be televised on Sky Sports & Sky Sports HD. Full details, including listings can be found via this link: httrallybrc.co.uk/index.php/mediamenu/tv