Keith3Cork’s Keith Cronin collected another podium finish on this weekend’s Rallye de France to set up a final-round showdown for victory in the Citroen Top Driver series. Cronin and co-driver Marshall Clarke completed one of the trickiest events of the season to finish third in the FIA World Rally Championship WRC3 series this afternoon, sealing four podiums from the last four events and setting up a thrilling race for the Top Driver title.

The Motorsport Ireland-backed crew will head to Rally GB, the last round of the Citroen one-make series, seven points behind leader Sebastien Chardonnet. Only Cronin and Chardonnet can clinch the title and the ultimate prize of a full WRC2 season in a Citroen DS3 R5 car in 2014.

It was, however, an achievement just to complete this weekend’s asphalt event based around Strasbourg. A mix of wet weather and soggy road-side verges saw mud and gravel dragged onto the roads when drivers cut corners searching for the fastest racing line. The action took place around the Vosges mountains with fast, twisty country roads dominating the event.

Cronin’s rally didn’t get off to the best of starts on Thursday evening on the opening street stage through Strasbourg. Caught behind a slower car, his Charles Hurst Citroen DS3 dropped eight seconds before the event had even kicked off for real.

When the action moved south for Friday’s opening day, Cronin was immediately caught out by the slippery roads and lost 46 seconds after clipping a wall and spinning the car twice. Such was the tight competition, his challenge for overall victory was gone and he decided to back off the pace a little. A good haul of championship points would mean he could chase down the title in Wales rather than try and beat the French drivers on their own patch.

Cronin continued to hold station for the remainder of the event, maintaining a quick pace and consolidating his third position. On Saturday, faced with rain, fog and constantly changing weather conditions, he gambled with tyre choice to try and steal a march on his opponents – but they continued to be spilt by seconds.

However, finishing the rally was no mean feat. A huge deluge of overnight rain on Saturday left today’s stages around Haguenau to the north of Strasbourg in treacherous condition.

Coming from Ireland, Cronin has experienced wet, slippery Tarmac from early in his rally career but today’s muddy roads caught out even the world’s best drivers – with nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb rolling into retirement this morning. His last-ever rally drew huge numbers of spectators to the event as they lined the stages to catch a final glimpse of the action.

Cronin and Clarke kept a clear head and took it stage by stage to come home third in Citroen Top Driver and third in the WRC3 feeder series. The result means the title chase moves to Rally GB in November with an exhilarating battle in place for one of the top prizes in world rallying. Keith2

Keith Cronin said: “That was a tough rally. The conditions today were treacherous, most of the stages were just coated in mud. It was a matter of treating each stage individually and trying to get to the finish. After losing the time on Friday we knew there was no way we could catch the French drivers on their home event but our times were still pretty good.

“I’m pleased that we are still in the race for the Citroen Top Driver title and hopefully it will be to our advantage that the last round is in Wales. We’ve been to each rally for the first time this year and have had to learn the events while still trying to push for a result. Consistency has paid off so far but now there’s a real battle set for the last round.”

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