KC1Ireland’s Keith Cronin is hoping a ‘home’ advantage on next weekend’s Wales Rally GB will give him the edge he needs to clinch one of the biggest prizes in world rallying. Cronin is locked in a thrilling winner-takes-all battle to prove he is the Citroen Top Driver and walk away with the promise of driving a Citroen DS3 R5 on six rallies in the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship.

Cronin, backed by Motorsport Ireland, has turned in a stunning set of performances on his maiden season in the world championship. In a sport where experience is vital, he and co-driver Marshall Clarke have gone to each event for the first time but racked-up four podiums from the last four events to challenge for the Top Driver title.

Only Cronin and French driver Sebastien Chardonnet can take the honours at the series finale next weekend. On paper it’s simple – Cronin is currently seven points behind Chardonnet in second place. If he wins in Wales, the 27-year-old Irishman will be crowned Citroen Top Driver and walk away with the prize drive for next season.

However, if neither Cronin nor Chardonnet take victory next weekend then it becomes much more complicated. Cronin would then need to score eight points more on the event, but the series rules allow other drivers from classes R2 and R3 to steal points. With a host of British Championship front-runners lining up alongside the Top Driver regulars, the permutations are plentiful.

Cork driver Cronin, however, has the advantage of UK experience. As triple British Rally Champion, he’s familiar with the forest roads in Wales and plans to exploit that benefit next weekend. He’s already proved his pace on gravel after sealing victory on Rally Finland in August with a dominant debut run.

But Wales Rally GB is set to be a tough event for Cronin in the Charles Hurst Citroen DS3. Organisers have refreshed the route to take in more new competitive stages across north-Wales and shifted the rally base to Deeside near Chester, making it much more accessible to fans.

The event blasts off on Thursday evening with a ceremonial start at Conwy Quay followed by three difficult night-time stages in north-Wales, which are new to most drivers. On Friday Cronin and Clarke head south to mid-Wales for the longest leg of the event – a loop of three more-familiar stages including Hafren, the longest test of the event at 32.14km, and the famous Sweet Lamb venue which attracts huge numbers of rally fans. The loop is repeated following a remote service at Newtown.

Saturday is a tough test of stamina with a full day of action without mid-day service, including Gartheiniog and the 21.9km Dyfi stage. The final day blast to the finish line sees just over 50km of action as the rally draws to a close with a 4.58km run over the asphalt Great Orme scenic drive before finish podium celebrations in Llandudno. In total the rally features 22 stages and 312km of timed action.

Keith Cronin said: “Winning the Citroen Top Driver title and the prize drive would be a huge lift to my career. We’ve worked hard this year and gone to each event for the first time to both learn the conditions and battle for championship points. Realistically we need to win in Wales and I’m hoping my British Rally Championship experience will give me the boost I need to stay ahead.

“I like the Welsh forests but many of the stages this year are new to me and I know just how difficult the conditions can be. It’s set to be another tough event as we need to find the fine balance between pushing for the result and having a mistake-free run.”

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