Three-time BRC champion Keith Cronin and co-driver Mikie Galvin claimed victory on round six of the 2017 Prestone MSA British Rally Championship – this weekend’s John Mulholland Ulster Rally (18/19 August). The Irish pairing took their second win of the year in their M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta R5 to set up an exciting title fight ahead of the season curtain call on the Isle of Man.
Finishing second on the Ulster Rally was Swedish sensation Fredrik Ahlin and his Norwegian co-driver Torstein Eriksen in their Skoda Fabia R5. The result marked their best finish on a Tarmac event as they maintain their championship lead ahead of the end-of-season crescendo with Cronin and Galvin. Rounding out the BRC podium was local crew Marty McCormack and navigator David Moynihan (Fabia R5), who clinched their third rostrum of the campaign.
The legendary Ulster Rally was to provide two days of enthralling action around Derry/Londonderry. Competitors were flagged off into the event by the mayor of the city, Maolíosa McHugh under the shadow of the Guildhall. Over 130 miles of slippery, bumpy and narrow Tarmac lanes faced the British Rally Championship crews – providing a heart-pumping spectacle as the championship fight took another step forward to its eagerly-anticipated showdown.
Torrential rain showers added an exciting extra ingredient into the opening day’s proceedings, before wet-but-drying stages played host to the second and final day of action.
Sailing across the rain-soaked stages were Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin in their DMACK-supported Ford Fiesta R5. Cronin and Galvin are the reigning Irish Tarmac champions and used all of their knowledge to set the fastest time on the opening test, before breaking away from the pack on the subsequent stages. Despite a puncture scare early on Saturday morning, the M-Sport crew never looked back and held the top spot throughout the 14 timed stages to take their second BRC win – backing up their dominant Ypres victory in June.
Keeping them honest across the two-day event was the Welsh crew of Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss. The Ford Fiesta R5 duo held onto Cronin and Galvin’s coat-tails, and at the overnight halt had brought the gap down to a mere 1.1 seconds going into the second day. Unfortunately for Osian and Dale, history repeated itself and the fuel pump on their Fiesta packed up once again – replicating their retirement from the Nicky Grist Stages, round five of the BRC.
Fredrik Ahlin and Torstein Eriksen had enjoyed a ding-dong battle with Pryce all event long and once the Welshman dropped from the leaderboard, Fredrik was the only man left to challenge the on-form Cronin. Setting top three stage times all weekend, Ahlin proved his creditionals as all-round driver with a strong display on the Irish Tarmac. Second place in Ulster leaves the destiny of the laurels in his hands, and he is ready to fight Cronin for the coveted crown on the Isle of Man.
Jonny Greer has had a disappointing season by his high standards, but the Northern Irishman went in search of an outright podium and a win in the Irish Tarmac Championship. Deciding to use unhomologated tyres to allow him to fight for Irish supremacy, this made him ineligible for BRC championship points for the third-place he achieved, but it was mission accomplished in the Irish series.
With Greer not scoring, up stepped Marty McCormack and navigator David Moynihan. The Irish crew had rolled their Kumho-shod Skoda in dramatic style in Ypres and hired a Fiesta R5 for Nicky Grist Stages to keep their championship aspirations alive. Back in the Fabia, McCormack was back to his brilliant best, threading the Czech machine through the narrow lanes to land his third podium of the season and putting himself in contention for a top three finish in the championship standings.
Irishman Desi Henry made a welcome return to the series after electing to miss the Nicky Grist Stages, having similarly rolled his Fabia R5 in Ypres. Along with Liam Moynihan, he threw everything at the rally to try and return to the rostrum, but this time the pair had to settle for a respectable fourth in their Michelin-shod Skoda.
Alex Laffey was eager to bounce back after a retirement on the Nicky Grist Stages and bounce back he did, as he and co-driver Patrick Walsh survived the two-day encounter to bring their Pirelli-supported Fiesta R5 home in fifth place, in the process helping to elevate M-Sport above rival CA1 Sport in the teams’ standings.
Matt Edwards and Darren Garrod were due to make it five tyre manufacturers in the top six, but the Hankook Ford Fiesta R5 crew had to retire on the second day due to a broken throttle cable, which had caused havoc all weekend – denying the Welsh pair their third podium on the bounce.
Creighton wins battle of attrition in Prestone Motorsport News Junior BRC
William Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan claimed their second win in the Prestone Motorsport News Junior BRC after two days of gruelling action on the Irish asphalt roads. The Peugeot 208 R2 crew had last triumphed on gravel on the Pirelli International Rally back in April and were determined to win their home event and strengthen their position at the top of the championship standings. A blistering run made Creighton untouchable, as the Michelin-backed star notched up his fifth podium from six events.
The Northern Irish crew enjoyed a battle royale with fellow championship leaders Callum Devine and Keith Moriarty on the opening day, but Devine’s charge was halted on stage ten when his alternator cried enough – sending the Opel ADAM R2 driver into an early retirement and denying fans a titanic tussle in the junior formula.
Norwegian star Oscar Solberg had declared at the start of the event that he was going to take it easy to build his experience on Irish Tarmac, but the Pirelli-backed driver ignored his own advice and pushed like only he knows how. Right from the outset, the Scandinavian gave it his all – bouncing his Ford Fiesta R2T between the grass banks and hedges. Solberg’s team, MH Motorsport certainly had its work cut out as it rebuilt the Fiesta throughout the event. Despite the car looking like a patchwork quilt at the end of the 130-mile marathon, Solberg and co-driver Patrick Barth finished second, claiming their first podium since their victory on round one, the Border Counties Rally.
Also in the fight for the rostrum positions was local star Marty Gallagher, with Dean O’Sullivan sat alongside. The 208 R2 crew were enjoying their best showing in the BRC to-date, but a seized gearbox on the second stage of the final day put paid to their event and with it their championship assault.
‘Famous Five’ for Cornwell in Cadet Cup
Englishman Josh Cornwell breezed to his fifth win in the Cadet Cup to claim the inaugural championship crown in his Ford Fiesta R2. After a third place on the Nicky Grist Stages, Cornwell had to travel to Northern Ireland to finally secure the title. With Tom Woodburn expertly guiding, the Dorking-based driver set some rapid times – quick enough to put him in the mix with the more powerful and newer cars in the Junior BRC category and in front of five-time BRC champion Jimmy McRae in the overall classification.
The only driver who could mathematically challenge Cornwell was MH Motorsport team-mate Alex Waterman, piloting a similar Ford Fiesta R2 alongside co-driver Harry Thomas. The pair did all they could, but they couldn’t stop the Cornwell freight train this time around and despite only being in their first full season of rallying, they can hold their heads high having shown some impressive pace in the BRC.
Rounding out the top three in the Cadet Cup was the team from Harper Adams University led by James McDiarmid and Max Haines-Messenger. The Ford Fiesta National crew suffered driveshaft woes on the opening day before a more consistent run on the second allowed them to pull clear of fourth-placed Nabila Tejpar and Richard Bliss (Ford Fiesta R2).
John Morrison and David White claim BRC titles in Northern Ireland
John Morrison and Peter Carstairs were the sole runners in the National Rally Cup class on the Ulster Rally, but the Scottish crew still had to bring their Mitsubishi Evo 9 to the finish to put the title out of reach of Donnie Macdonald, who was absent from the Derry/Londonderry event. Flinging the big Japanese machine around the lanes, the new NRC champions stepped out of the car at the finish, justifiably pleased with their weekend’s work.
David and Matthew White were in a similar position, as they too had to finish to wrap up the BRC4 title. The father-and-son duo love the Tarmac events and were keen to tick off the iconic Ulster Rally from their rallying bucket list. The Barnsley-based team started to hear noises from the gearbox on Saturday afternoon and lost the intercom with three stages to go, but by keeping cool, the Whites came home inside the top ten in the BRC section – snaring their first outright championship points and the all-important BRC4 title.
Quotes from round six – John Mulholland Ulster Rally
Ulster Rally – Keith Cronin – First Overall – Ford Fiesta R5
“It started out with a big fight early on and there was nothing between us [Cronin, Pryce and Ahlin] after the first day. Tyre choice was a complete lottery, and we capitalised on a good decision on the second day to bridge a gap. Unfortunately, we then got a puncture so we had to build our lead all over again! We have the best chance other than Fredrik [Ahlin] to win the championship, and whilst he is the clear leader, rallying is rallying. We had a bit of bad luck at the start of the year, so maybe we will have some good luck at the end to give us a chance to fight for the title.”
Ulster Rally – Fredrik Ahlin – Second Overall – Skoda Fabia R5
“This event was a real, real tough one. Hats off to Keith [Cronin] – his speed on the wet Tarmac was unbelievable. We couldn’t match it, but we have got a lot closer to the front-running pace this year compared to last year so we are always learning. We are going to need to drive hard on the Isle of Man, and it will be really fun to drive in a fight for the title. It’s going to be interesting – let the quickest man win!”
Ulster Rally – Marty McCormack – Third Overall – Skoda Fabia R5
“We started off a bit slow, as we found the conditions very tricky and we had a puncture early on as well. Gradually, we built the pace and we wanted to get a good finish here so I am delighted to take third. I find I always take a bit of time to get onto the pace, but I am really happy with the performance in the rebuilt car and to be back on the podium is very gratifying.”
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship
Round 6 – John Mulholland Ulster Rally
1. Keith Cronin (IRL) / Mikie Galvin (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5
2. Fredrik Ahlin (SWE) / Torstien Erikson (NOR) Skoda Fabia R5 +54.7s
3. Marty McCormack (GBR) / David Moynihan (GBR) Skoda Fabia R5 +2:25.5s
4. Desi Henry (IRL) / Liam Moynihan (IRL) Skoda Fabia R5 +2:55.2s
5. Alex Laffey (GBR) / Patrick Walsh (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +8:17.9s
6. William Creighton (GBR) / Liam Regan (IRL) Peugeot 208 R2 +12:35.3s
7. Oscar Solberg (NOR) / Patrik Barth (SWE) Ford Fiesta R2T +22:25.5s
8. Josh Cornwell (GBR) / Tom Woodburn (GBR) Ford Fiesta R2 +24:00.3s
9. David White (GBR) / Matthew White (GBR) Ford Fiesta R2 +30:13.5s
10. Alex Waterman (GBR) / Harry Thomas (GBR) Ford Fiesta R2 +31:12.7s
Prestone Motorsport News Junior British Rally Championship
1. Willaim Creighton (GBR) / Liam Regan (IRL) Peugeot 208 R2
2. Oscar Solberg (NOR) / Patrik Barth (SWE) Ford Fiesta R2T
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship Standings (Drivers) after round six
1. Fredrik Ahlin – 106*
2. Keith Cronin – 74
3. Osian Pryce – 66*
4. Martin McCormack – 57*
5. Matt Edwards – 54
6. Rhys Yates – 46*
7. Jamie Anderson – 39*
8. David Bogie – 37*
9. Desi Henry – 24*
10. Tom Cave – 22*
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship Standings (Co-drivers) after round six
1. Torstien Eriksen – 101
2. Mikie Galvin – 74
3. Dale Furniss – 66
4. David Moynihan – 57
5. Ross Whittock – 38
6. Kevin Rae – 37
7. Darren Garrod – 36
8. Carl Williamson – 28
9. Liam Moynihan – 22
10. Phil Clarke – 18
(* = Joker nominations have been played. Rally Isle of Man is a double-header with two points-scoring opportunities. Every driver to drop two scores).
The full results and championship points can be found at www.msabrc.com.