Donegal International Rally will be ‘incredibly important’ to overall championship, says Keith Cronin

The Cork man has not competed at the rally since 2016

Keith Cronin / Mikie Galvin - Ford Fiesta Rally 2
Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin will be taking their Ford to Donegal this weekend (Tom Banks)

KEITH Cronin says he is happy to adopt a “gradual approach” on the opening day of the Donegal International Rally as he attempts to stretch his lead in the Irish Tarmac Championship standings.

Twenty special stages spread over three legs await crews, with Cronin set to experience these for the first time since 2016 – the year he lost out on the win by half-a-second to the late Manus Kelly.

He has a 13.5-point cushion to protect going into the Letterkenny-based competition, which starts at 11.05am on Friday with a run over ‘Malin Head’ and then ‘Mamore Gap’ and ‘Coolcross’ – three tests that are repeated in the afternoon once crews have visited the service park in Carndonagh.

However, once dropped scores come into play, defending Tarmac champion Callum Devine and series debutant Matt Edwards remain firmly in contention as the summer rounds fast approach.

A third win of the campaign would boost Cronin’s hopes considerably, but due to the length of the Donegal International, he accepts a strategic approach is required if he is to stay in the mix.

”It is a long rally at 275 stage kilometres,” said the second seed.

“There are so many opportunities for things to go against you, so we may perhaps take a more gradual approach than we have for some of the other rounds so far.

“Callum and Josh [Moffett] have won the last three Donegal rallies between them, while Matt finished second last year and led the year before that before retiring.

“We are the only crew with two victories in the Irish Tarmac Championship so far, but if Matt or Callum were to draw level in Donegal, it would be very tight to stay ahead over the last couple of rounds, so there is no doubt that the outcome this weekend is going to be incredibly important.

“It will be a tall order to get the best of any of them and I think whoever the winners turn out to be, they will have a good weekend’s work done,” added Cronin, who is navigated by Mikie Galvin.

Cronin’s confidence has been lifted with a victory on last month’s Jim Clark Rally in Scotland – a performance that ignited his quest to wrap up the British Rally Championship title for a fifth time.

It, too, was held on asphalt, and the seat time in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 is sure to help.

Donegal International Rally 2024 – Top 10 Seeds

1. Callum Devine/Noel O’Sullivan (Volkswagen Polo GTi R5)

2. Keith Cronin / Mikie Galvin (Ford Fiesta Rally2)

3. Matt Edwards / David Moynihan (Ford Fiesta Rally2)

4. Josh Moffett / Andy Hayes (Citroen C3 Rally2)5. Sam Moffett / James O’Reilly (Hyundai i20 N Rally2)

6. Meirion Evans / Ger Conway (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)

7. David Kelly / Dean O’Sullivan (Volkswagen Polo GTi R5)

8. Desi Henry / Shane Byrne (Citroen C3 Rally2)

9. Declan Boyle / Patrick Walsh (Citroen C3 Rally2)

10. Cathan McCourt / Brian Hoy (Ford Fiesta Rally2)