Keith Cronin scored his first podium finish in the FIA World Rally Championship WRC3 after finishing runner-up in the tough Rally Italia Sardegna.

Challenging Conditions in Sardegna Image: Jakob Ebery

Challenging Conditions in Sardinia

Despite losing time on the very first stage with a puncture, Keith battled back over the two-day event and moved into second after a last stage twist. Cork driver Cronin arrived in Sardinia knowing he could match the front-runners in pace after scoring a series of fastest times on his world rally debút in Portugal. However, a puncture on the opening stage of the event saw him drop nearly five minutes and soar down the time-sheets to ninth.

Unfazed, and aware that the tough conditions on the Mediterranean island would throw up more challenges, he set about a charge to claw back the time and get the most out of his Charles Hurst Citroën DS3.

Showing Pace

He immediately stamped his authority on the event after going second in stage two then fastest of all on the 14.9km Tergu-Osilo test. Cronin and co-driver Marshall Clarke were on a mission. Dominating the remainder of the day, the pair set fastest times on four of the eight stages and — puncture aside — set top-two times on all of Friday’s opening day tests.

The performance saw the Motorsport Ireland-backed driver overhaul a raft of more experienced crews to jump five places into fourth at the end of the leg.

Challenging Conditions

But day two saw Sardinia really bite back. Its gravel stages can be extremely abrasive and demanding on tyres, but there’s also sandy sections which rut and expose piercing rocks. Searing summer temperatures and a more compact itinerary for 2013 combined to make it a physically demanding rally with crews constantly fighting to stay hydrated.
Punctures are frequent and, with little breeze, hanging dust is an issue that everyone has to deal with. And it was a mix of these issues which saw Cronin drop time on Saturday’s first stage.

He lost over a minute when another competitor stopped to change a puncture and then pulled out in front of him, causing Cronin to back off – hampered by the dust-induced lack of visibility. But he held on and moved into third, leapfrogging French ace Sebastien Chardonnet in the process.

However, it was the last two punishing stages which were possibly the toughest for Cronin. He was forced to drive through without power steering, difficult under normal conditions, but gruelling in the summer sun and arduous on rocky roads. Cronin dropped time but, in a last-minute change of fortune, he took advantage of Stephane Consani’s electrical problem to clinch a well-deserved second place.

In the Running

Sardinia 2013 image: Jakob Ebery

Image: Jakob Ebery

The result elevates Cronin to third in the WRC3 championship and puts him firmly back into the race for the Citroen Top Driver series – now in fourth position and just four points off the lead.

Rally Italia Sardegna was again based in Olbia on the island’s north-east corner and saw Cronin tackle a total of 304km across 16 timed special stages to the west of the town. The next round sees crews stick with gravel but move to the ultra-fast roads of Rally Finland at the beginning of August.

Keith Cronin said: “It’s been a tough rally but we’ve come away with a strong podium finish and some important points on the board. We’ve had problems on both rallies so far and I’m happy that we’re still in the championship battle even if we’ve had to work really hard to be here. Rally Sardinia was a big challenge but again we showed a very good pace, especially on the first day when we were the quickest crew on the stages. I expected punctures and dust but it was difficult to really get into a rhythm. The last two stages were a tough way to finish off the rally but, in the end, I think we did well to come away with a podium place.”

WRC png copyWRC3 – Round Three – Finland
1st – 3rd August 2013

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