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Cronin Flies To Maiden World Rally Victory In Finland

Keith Cronin on the podium

Ireland’s Keith Cronin clinched a spectacular WRC3 victory today at Rally Finland on only his third-ever FIA World Rally Championship rally. Cronin delivered an outstanding performance to win by 74.5 seconds and move into the lead of the Citroën Top Driver championship.

The Motorsport Ireland-supported driver adopted a very clever approach on his first visit to Finland – renowned for being an ultra-fast specialist event. He and co-driver Marshall Clarke belied their lack of Finnish experience to control the pace from the front and seal a stunning victory.

Rally Finland is loved and revered worldwide. As one of the fastest rallies in the WRC calendar, its gravel roads demand huge levels of commitment and skill. But it’s the blind crests and huge jumps which the event is probably most famous for, and make it such a tough rally to master.

Cork driver Cronin’s approach, however, was meticulous. After problems on the first two earlier rounds of the championship, he set out to have a clean event and secure important points for both the WRC3 and Citroën Top Driver championships.

But on the opening day he was forced to lift the pace in his Charles Hurst Citroën DS3 to keep in touch with the front-runners. After going fourth fastest on the opening stage, just 1.6 seconds down on the leader, he set second fastest time on stages two and three then went fastest on the 8.3km fourth test.

Cronin was locked in a battle with Northern Irishman Alastair Fisher and the pair sailed ahead of championship leader Sebastien Chardonnet. At the end of day one Fisher held the overnight lead with Cronin just 9.2 seconds back in second place.

It all changed spectacularly on day two when the action returned to the famous stages around host town Jyvaskyla. On stage eight, the 13.92km run through Palsankyla, Fisher rolled in dramatic fashion and his car was too badly damaged to continue. Cronin’s waiting game paid off and he moved into the WRC3 lead by over 53 seconds. He seized the initiative and set five fastest times to extend his lead to 94 seconds by the end of day two.

But it was how the 27-year-old handled the situation which was most impressive. He controlled the pace from the front, backing off on the second pass through most of the remaining stages to avoid the ruts and rocks dragged out by previous cars.

It was only a small scare on the opening stage this morning, when a turbo problem saw his DS3 lose power, that ever put victory in doubt. Cronin cruised through today’s stages, including the legendary 33km Ouninpohja test, to clinch a remarkable victory. He led for 16 of the 23 timed stages and completed the 324.21km of frantic action 74.5 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

The win leapfrogs Cronin to the top of the Citroën Top Driver championship table with a three point lead. The one-make series offers a prize drive in the 2014 world championship and today’s victory takes Cronin one step closer to his dream.

Keith Cronin said: “I’m really happy to be back in the battle for the championship. Winning here in Finland means so much to me – especially at my first attempt at the rally. It’s a legendary event and I can’t believe we came to Finland for the first time and won. The plan for this rally was to find a comfortable pace and have a trouble free drive and I really couldn’t have asked for much more. It was difficult today as we had a comfortable lead and I didn’t want to make any mistakes.”

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