After Elfyn Evans made the move into the World Rally Championship for 2017, the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship saw both new and returning faces to the series with past champions, newcomers and returning drivers entering in 2017.
BRC1 – Cronin Wins Fourth BRC Title
And it was just one point that separated the top two drivers in Britain’s premier rallying championship after seven events in six territories, with the series going down to the very last stage of the season. But after the many twists and turns throughout 2017, it was Keith Cronin who produced one of the most memorable championship comebacks in recent history to claim a fourth British Rally Championship in his first season after returning to the series.
After focusing on the Irish Tarmac championship in 2016 back in his homeland, Irishman Cronin announced his intensions for a tilt at the title by signing with one of the biggest teams in World rallying, M-Sport, to drive a latest-spec Ford Fiesta R5 in a full season campaign this year and despite a shaky start, the deal proved to be one that benefited him dearly.
Cronin’s main rival, Swede Fredrik Ahlin returned in 2017 after a debut season the previous year again driving for CA1 Sport but this year instead driving a Skoda Fabia R5 after completing 2016 in a Fiesta R5.
With Cronin and Ahlin two of the championship favourites before the first round, the Border Counties Rally, the BRC1 class also saw various returning drivers from 2016, with Matt Edwards, Tom Cave, Rhys Yates, former champion David Bogie and Martin McCormack just some of the drivers to re-enter ahead of 2017’s curtain raiser.
The Border Counties Rally was new to the series in 2017 after the cancellation of the Mid-Wales Stages and stepped in to host the opening round and didn’t disappoint. Ahlin took the victory in dominating fashion in the first gravel event of the year on round one and instantly showed his intentions for the rest of the season with Tom Cave and Osian Pryce rounding out the top three and to-be champion Cronin claiming fourth on his BRC debut for M-Sport.
Round two took the crews into Cumbria and the traditional BRC event the Pirelli International Rally. Another gravel event suited Ahlin, but unlike on round one was made to work for his win after a close battle with 2016 Drive D-MACK Champion Osian Pryce. Pryce in a Spencer Sport-ran Fiesta would go on to claim second on this event, but this was only the start for the Welshman who would put in some fine performances across 2017.
Behind Pryce and Ahlin was Martin McCormack who was able to benefit from Cronin’s first retirement of the season after rolling out of the event. Another man to suffer bad luck in Kielder was Tom Cave who had switched to a Hyundai i20 R5 only for the new car to suffer suspension problems at the beginning of day two as well as David Bogie in a sister-CA1 car to Ahlin; the Scot did however manage to salvage fourth overall after brake issues on day one.
A return to Scotland and the RSCA Scottish Rally was round three in 2017, with championship leader Ahlin aiming to make it a hat trick of wins in the first three events of the season, but hometown here Bogie had other ideas.
The man who comes from town where the rally was based, Dumfries in the Scottish Borders, had a ding-dong battle with his teammate throughout the whole of the event with the pair separated by just 0.1 of a second with one stage remaining on Saturday afternoon and it was Bogie who would go on to claim the victory.
On the last stage, the Ahlin hit a rock that managed to get wedged into the radiator of his Fabia subsequently bursting it and putting him out of the rally and earning him no points. Osian Pryce therefore took the runners up spot ahead of McCormack with Cronin again finishing fourth for the second time in three events.
June saw the BRC head oversees for the first time in its history and be part of the Ypres Rally in Belgium and was the beginning of Cronin’s championship push. The former champion was on his favoured tarmac surface for the first time this season and made sure to take full advantage.
As Cronin dominated at the front, both Ahlin and Bogie who were at the sharp end of the championship standings would suffer big accidents. Bogie in particular would suffer deeply and would not return to the BRC for the remainder of 2017 after substantial damage to the Fabia R5, while Ahlin’s title push suffered a hit for the second round in succession. The Swede was however able to recover to finish sixth in the BRC1 class and earn crucial championship points.
With Ahlin in trouble and Bogie out, Matt Edwards, who was constantly improving throughout 2017 and Pryce were the drivers who were able to take advantage and claim the remaining podium places in Belgium.
After the trip abroad and ahead of the next round of the championship, the Nicky Grist Stages, a battle between Ahlin and Pryce seemed to be forming, with Cronin still behind in the standings.
Pryce was seemingly on the verge of winning his home event when heartbreak struck the Welsh driver as the fuel pump failed on the Fiesta, forcing him to retire and earn no points in his battle for the championship.
As Pryce’s dream win fell by the wayside, Ahlin could take full advantage and claim another victory, his third of the season, on the only mixed surface event of the year. Behind him finished Edwards, on the podium for the second event in succession and Rhys Yates who earned his first appearance in the top three in Wales. Cronin again suffered problems on a gravel event, and went off the road and would score no points.
After visiting Scotland, England, Wales and Belgium, the BRC then made the trip to Ireland for the Ulster Rally where the champion to be Cronin was in unstoppable form. His home event saw him dominate amongst the BRC runners during a weekend with extra competition from the Ireland Tarmac Championship and drivers including Sam and Josh Moffett.
Cronin made the most of his previous experience on Irish tarmac and claimed the win ahead of rival Ahlin with Marty McCormack the man taking third. Pryce in the Spencer Sport Fiesta suffered yet another fuel pump issue and again retired leaving him all but mathematically out of the title race.
The Welshman announced days later he was not to take part in the BRC finale on the Isle of Man in a bid to save budget ahead of him coming back for another title challenge in 2018.
With the double header on the Isle of Man the final stop in the record breaking 2017 BRC season, the title race was down to three drivers; championship leader Ahlin, the comeback king Cronin and the ever-consistent Edwards.
With Pryce not competing in the final event, M-Sport in a bid to earn championship points in the teams championship, asked Edwards to be their nominated driver alongside Cronin and Alex Laffey and the move would pay dividends as they went on to claim the title by 24 points over rival squad CA1 Sport.
The Isle of Man event used a double header format, meaning it was all to play for the three drivers still in with a chance of claiming the top prize.
Cronin who had to win both events, started in perfect fashion, claiming the leg one victory at the end of day two ahead of Edwards, who had needed to win to stay in the championship hunt and Ahlin who took third.
So with one leg left, it was between championship leader Ahlin and Cronin who was on a mission to complete the ultimate series comeback and by the end of leg two, the Irish driver had done just that by claiming the victory in the final round of the season.
Cronin showed his strength on tarmac and won the championship by a sole point ahead of Ahlin in turn thanks to Edwards who had again snatched crucial points away from the Swede after finishing second on leg two on the Isle of Man, incredibly finishing just 0.1 seconds behind Cronin.
BRC Junior – Devine Claims The Title On The Isle Of Man
The Prestone Motorsport News BRC Junior class had a similar ding-dong battle throughout 2017, with Callum Devine going toe-to-toe with William Creighton throughout the entire season.
The pair battled at the front of the timesheets across all seven rounds, with Devine ultimately taking the title as the championship as like in BRC1 went down to the wire.
Over the course of the seven rounds, five different winners were on the top step of the podium, with Devine proving his ability on the way to winning the £30,000 cash prize by taking three victories along with Creighton, Oscar Solberg who took the first win of the season, Cameron Davies and Marty Gallagher also taking maximum scores at points throughout the year.
After beginning the season in a Ford Fiesta R2T, a change of car to an Opel Adam R2 before the Ypres Rally proved a masterstroke Devine and he went on to win both the Belgian event and the following Nicky Grist Stages as he went on to win three out of the final rounds of the year.
Consistency was key to runner up Creighton as he was always within the top four across the year in his Peugeot 208 R2, but the Irishman could not cope with the pace from Devine as he claimed the title. Third at the end of the season went to Solberg with Creighton taking fourth.
The BRC Cadet class, open to older specification R2 cars saw Josh Cornwell dominate all season with a near-perfect record. The youngster wrapped up the title with a round to spare ahead of Tom Williams and Alex Waterman, with Cornwell only dropping points on the Nicky Grist Stages, while the BRC4 class saw two season entries with David White in a Ford Fiesta R2 beating BMX world champion Gee Atherton by 50 points; Atherton having to miss several events during the season due to a large biking accident.
The 2018 Prestone MSA British Rally Championship will begin with the Border Counties Rally on March 10/11 2018.