After a fantastic duel with Jarkko Nikara, Irishman Keith Cronin took victory on the Pirelli International Rally, becoming the third different winner in the first three rounds of the 2012 MSA British Rally Championship.
After two days of intense competition in the Kielder forests, two-time BRC champion Cronin emerged with a 17 second victory in his Citroen DS3 R3 over his Finnish Autosport Technologies team-mate, the duo switching the lead on three separate occasions.
Rally winner Cronin said: “It's been a fantastic battle and a win always feels so much better when you have to fight for it. Once we had settled into the new car and tweaked a few things, we had no problems at all, so it's been a very enjoyable rally and great to win a round of the British Championship again. Thanks must go to Autosport Technology for getting the car ready, Marshall my co-driver and everyone who has helped me achieve this.”
After a ceremonial start in Carlisle city centre, the action began with two stages on Friday evening in the Kershorpe Forest Complex, with Nikara taking the early lead with both stage wins. It took just one stage on Saturday morning for Cronin to seize the advantage though, with the duo going on to share all the day's stage wins between them.
Cronin, in only his second BRC event in his DS3, took eight stage wins out of ten on Saturday, however Nikara was never far behind, with the gap between them only an incredible 0.6s after Nikara won SS8. Cronin went on to win the final four stages though to creep clear and pick up his first BRC victory since his 2010 Isle of Man success.
Behind, it was Elfyn Evans who stormed into second on Friday night, the Welshman putting in a superb performance in his less powerful R2 class Ford Fiesta, ending up just 2.2 seconds adrift of Nikara. Evans went on to hold third until the end of SS6, when he was finally overhauled by the more powerful R3 Renault Clio of Mark Donnelly, who grew with confidence over the rally after his big crash in the last event, the Bulldog.
Evans was able to stay ahead of the similar machine of Peter Taylor to claim fourth overall and the R2 class win. It was close though, Evans losing 25 seconds to Taylor on the final stage to end up just six seconds ahead, with the gap between himself in fourth and Jussi Kumpumaki in seventh being only 19 seconds at the finish.
Taylor's fifth means Renault collect some good points for the Team's Championship, although Citroen's one-two sees them edge further away at the top of those standings. Jukka Korhonen finished sixth in his Pirelli TEG Sport Skoda Fabia R2, while fellow Finn Kumpumaki was the surprise choice for the event's Pirelli Star Driver nomination in seventh, the Ford Fiesta driver receiving it for his impressive stage times through the event.
Alastair Fisher ran fourth early on in his Ford Fiesta R2, but the Northern Irishman was slowed early on day two when stones became caught up in his Fiesta's rear brakes, the WRC Academy star ending up eighth.
Bulldog winner Tom Cave finished up ninth after a tricky event, with his team unable to find the right set-up during the rally, leaving him with a lack of pace and confidence. Completing the top ten after overcoming a puncture on the opening stage was Jonathan Greer in his Citroen DS3, while taking the R1 honours was Steve Rokland in seventeenth overall.
Leading the list of retirements was Welshman Osian Pryce, a loss of power in his Citroen DS3 on SS2 eventually leading to retirement at the end of SS4. American Nick Allen also suffered engine problems in his Renault Twingo, stopping at the end of SS3. Matthew Cathcart was unable to restart on Saturday morning after damaging his steering rack with an off on SS2, while getting stuck in the infamous Kielder ditches were Alex Parpottas and Ruary McLeod.
Provisional 2012 MSA British Rally Championship Standings (After Rd.3):
- Elfyn Evans – 45 points
- Tom Cave – 42 points
- Keith Cronin – 38 points
- Peter Taylor – 38 points
- Mark Donnelly – 36 points
- Jarkko Nikara – 34 points
- Desi Henry – 32 points
- Osian Pryce – 30 points
Highlights of the event can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwZ7mzrV4tI&list=UU7UG-nuwlbgqoGcZG5Xrsdg&index=1&feature=plcp