Navigate your way through Keith Cronin’s story so far, tracing his route from West Cork to the World Rally Championship.



After growing up watching his uncle Denis rallying, Keith made his rally career debut in 2003 at the age of just 16. For his first races, he joined Denis and Keith took the co-driver’s seat in a few forestry rallies. The car used was a Mark II Escort, and the opportunity to drive a World Rally Car must have seemed a long way off at this point!

A 1300 Opel Corsa was acquired with Keith starting as a driver for the first time at the Carrick-on-Suir Forestry Rally.

Seeded at the back at the field, Keith and co-driver Sean Duggan were immediately on the pace, mixing it with best in Class 1 and were lying second in class just outside the top 20 at the halfway point. On the next stage their rally came to an end when on a rutted junction the crew slipped off the road into the undergrowth. While there was no damage to car or crew, there was no possibility of getting back on the road. As the crew were out on the road displaying their OK board, they noticed smoke coming from underneath the car. Despite their best efforts the fire took hold and burned the car to a bare shell.

This was a major setback to Keith, but the team regrouped and were back rallying again in May for the first Junior Rally of the Lakes in the ex Owen Murphy 1400 Peugeot 106. For the rest of the season, with cousin Colm Cronin in the co-driver’s seat, Keith competed in a number of forestry and tarmac rallies, with people already taking notice of this up-and-coming driver.

For the 2005 season, Keith moved up to a 106 Cup car. On the Circuit of Kerry, Anthony O’Conaill took over as co-Driver. Budget permitting, the team took part in a number of tarmac & forestry rallies, and towards the end of the season the results started to get more and more impressive. The first overall win came on the Galway Summer Junior rally, and this was followed a few weeks later by second overall on the National Section of the Cork ‘20’!

Keith Cronin rally
2006 brought a move to left-hand-drive, with the purchase of a Group A Peugeot 206. The car was very competitive on tarmac, with Keith and Anthony taking a class win on the Rally of the Lakes. However, on forestry stages the car proved unreliable so, on the week before the Cork Forest rally a deal was struck to trade the 206 in against a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7.

On Day One of the rally, Keith and Anthony “bedded” themselves in with the left hand drive 4 wheel drive car, but on Day 2 it was the new boys who started setting the pace in Group N, surprising a lot of the regulars. Leading the class and with the finish almost in sight, a puncture damaged the oil cooler, and forced the pairto retire. Still, the seeds were sowed for future honours.

Those honours came on the next round of the Championship in Birr. Up against the Forestry WRC drivers, Keith set a fastest overall stage time on the second stage, and at the finish had won Group N by over a minute. Killarney Forestry brought Keith & Anthony a second overall and another Group N win. Prepared by Colm Grant of TTEC, the car had not missed a beat, so the crew now looked towards changing the car to tarmac spec for their home international, the Cork ‘20’.

The cream of Irish Group N drivers would be in attendance in Cork, many with the latest specification Mitsubishis & Subarus, against Keith’s 3-year-old example. In very tricky conditions, Keith showed skill far beyond his age, mixing it at the top of Group N and taking a well-deserved second in class on what was his first tarmac rally with a 4-wheel-drive rally car.

Next up was the Fastnet Rally, but, on the opening stage, Keith’s car suffered a puncture. In stopping to change, he dropped 3 ½ – 4 minutes, finishing the stage last in Group N and 116th overall. This only made him more determined and he fought back, setting five fastest times in Gp N and eventually finishing a respectable 11th overall and 4th Group N. What is more remarkable is that on the final stage he was beaten only by Michael Barrable and Ray Breen in their Ford Focus WRCs, and he was a full 33 seconds faster than any other car in the showroom category.

Keith Cronin Rally
In 2007, Keith was due to sit his final college accountancy exams. It was therefore decided that he would concentrate on the National Forestry Championship, as it required the least amount of time spent away from study. Hankook were also announced as new sponsors. A non-finish on the opening round in Carrick-on-Suir was not the ideal start to the year; however, on the next round in Tipperary, Keith finished second overall to Steven Moore and was a decisive winner in Group N, after setting the two fastest times on the day and leading the rally for a number of stages. On the next rounds in Limerick, Munster and Monaghan, he took maximum points in his class with apparent ease and managed also managed another couple of overall fastest times.

It was at the penultimate round in Cork, however that he really gave a masterful display, leading the event outright from stage three. Even the more powerful WRC cars were unable match his times on the more technical stages. As overnight leader he was apprehensive about running first on the road on Sunday, but he drove with an assurance and maturity beyond his years, eventually surrendering his lead on stage thirteen as the WRC of main rival Stephen Moore stretched its muscles on the faster stages.

Keith set five fastest stage times on the event eventually finishing second to Moore but, significantly, over 3 ½ minutes ahead of Former multiple Forestry Champion, Kevin O’Kane in third place.

The final round in Killarney saw a number of England’s best drivers in attendance as it was also a round of the ANCRO MSA National Gravel Rally Championship. In another assured drive Keith finished fourth, behind the trio of Stephen Moore, Marcus Dodd and Steve Perez, who only managed to snatch the final podium position from the young Corkman on the final stage.

A fuel starvation problem on the Cork ‘20’ International Rally caused problems that eventually led to retirement. The Fastnet Rally was the next outing, where there was strong opposition from young Norwegian sensation Eyvind Brydnildsen. On the first stage Cronin’s pace was such that, despite stopping at the scene of an accident to enquire about the crew, he still arrived at the stage finish one second faster than anyone else in his class.

His closest challenger was Kevin Kelleher and they had an epic battle throughout the day, with Cronin leading by a mere 15 seconds entering the final stage. Unfortunately Kelleher punctured and the battle was over. However, a convincing win in Group N and a fine 6th overall for the young Ballylickey man was just reward for a fine drive.

Next up was the Kerry mini-stages and here he renewed his rivalry with Kevin Kelleher. Keith was faster on the first two stages to lead his Clonakilty rival by 11 seconds. Kelleher reduced the deficit to 6 seconds on stage 3 which left it all to play for on the final stage. Fastest on the last stage by 4 second Cronin took his first overall win by 10 seconds. More significantly, it meant that throughout last year he was unbeaten on either Gravel or Tarmac!

The icing on the cake for 2007 came on 4th December when Motorsport Ireland announced that Keith was being awarded the much-coveted ‘Billy Coleman’ award as Ireland’s ‘Young Rally Driver of the Year 2007.’

Keith Cronin rally driver
Having proved that he had speed on both surfaces — a major requirement for success at international level — it was felt that no single Irish Championship could provide that experience and so alternatives were examined. It was decided that the most attractive championship to contest was the UK ‘Evo’ Challenge as it was contested over both surfaces and the prize of a ‘Works’ drive was very lucrative.

The 5-year-old car that he had was upgraded to a newer ‘Evo’ 9 model only days before the first round of the championship. In fact the car was only collected on route to the event, which was the Rally Sunseeker in Bournemouth. Teething problems were the order of the day and whilst there were flashes of his trademark speed he had to settle for 7th in ‘Evo’ Challenge terms.

Considerable work was done on the car afterwards and Limerick Forestry Rally was then used as a test. A new navigator, the vastly experienced Greg Shinnors, also joined the team. Leading the rally after stage 1, a puncture on the second stage saw them drop some 25 seconds to fourth overall. He was fastest car on two more stages and finished second to Ray Breen in a Focus WRC. The winning margin of 15 seconds was frustrating given the time lost earlier.

Next up was the Border Counties on the ‘Evo’ Challenge and the team travelled with confidence , now that the car was performing better. Unfortunately they did not really find out if the gremlins were sorted as they slipped off the road on the very first stage and, although damage was minimal, they were unable to regain the road.

Following that disappointment they were next on their travels to the Isle of Man for the first Tarmac round. Having dropped time on the first night stages due to a lighting problem, they were at an immediate disadvantage. However, they still managed second fastest ‘Evo’ on the second stage. On the morning of day 2 they set their first fastest time on the U.K.’Evo’ Challenge 2008 by beating all of their opposition on stage 6. This became a habit for them as they finished the year with more fastest times than any other competitor on the 2008 ‘Evo’ Challenge.

First in class and a marvellous 5th overall was their reward when the rally finally wound its way back to Douglas. A winning margin of 47 seconds in ‘Evo’ terms was really throwing down the gauntlet to the competition.

The Severn Valley saw the championship return to gravel and on stage one the Cork / Limerick pairing were second overall and fastest of the ‘Evos’. On stage three however a slight indiscretion saw them slide backwards into a bank. The only damage done was to the exhaust pipe which was crumpled. It would not allow exhaust gas to pass which meant that they could not properly rev the engine for the remainder of the longest stage of the day. This problem also damaged the turbo, though this issue did not come to light until the final stage. As a result they dropped another 30 seconds, and their fourth place finish was scant reward for having 4 fastest times out of 7 stages.

Swansea Bay Rally was the next event on the calendar. This rally had proved to be unlucky on the 2007 visit when retirement came after stage 4 after they had been lying comfortably inside the top 10. 2008 was equally unsuccessful as an off-road excursion on Stage 4 ended their rally. What made it even more frustrating was that they were leading the ‘Evos’ at the time and there was no physical damage to the car. However, it was not possible to extricate it from the Welsh bog!

The next round on the agenda was the Ulster Rally. This rally is renowned for having 16 of the toughest tarmac stages on these islands. On stage one, Keith and Greg were fastest of the ‘Evos’. On all other stages they were also fastest, a result never before achieved in any round of the ‘Evo’ Challenge. They ended up with a winning margin of over 4 minutes, also a first in ‘Evo’ terms. Fellow championship contender, David Bogie went off the road on stage one which ended his involvement in the rally. However, in accordance with the British Rally Championship rules he was able to score points for 5th in his ‘Evo’ class by passing through the First Control on Day 2. This ensures that he was the favourite to be that year’s ‘Evo’ champion.

The Ulster Rally was also a round of the British and Irish Rally Championships. The team had been very close to the pace of the British Rally Championship competitors on the wet tarmac stages where the opposition’s superior works cars could not be effectively utilised.

It was decided that the International ‘Trackrod’ Rally Yorkshire would be entered to gain further experience and gauge how close the team was to the brisk pace in British Forests. Slotting into 3rd overall after the second stage they managed to record some 2nd fastest times, being beaten only by the legendary Guy Wilks. They eventually finished third – a remarkable achievement given the quality of the opposition.

The significance of the result was not lost on the British Works drivers, all of whom came to shake his hand at the final control. Only two of these professional drivers had managed to beat the young trainee accountant from West Cork.
In October the team travelled to Austria to compete in the Pirelli ‘Shootout’, having been chosen as Ireland’s representative by Motorsport Ireland. Despite being held up by a slower car on one of the forestry stages, being fastest overall on the tarmac ensured that the Irish representatives were second overall on the timed stages.

The final outing in 2008 was to be the Banna Beach Mini-Stages Rally. Having won the event the previous year, Keith was guaranteed to be starting from the number one berth. Earlier in the year, when the Cronin Motorsport Supporters Club had been founded it was decided that all club members would be entered into an end of year draw, the top prize being a seat beside Keith at Banna 2008. David Power, who had never before competed on a rally was fortunate enough to sit in by virtue of winning the first prize. He has the distinction now, of having a 100% winning record as the crew went on to win the event by a 21 second margin.

Keith Cronin rally driver
2009 got off to a dream start on the Sean Conlon Memorial Forestry Rally in Mitchelstown. Keith and regular nav, Greg, took the lead on the second stage and did not relinquish it for the remainder of the event. They eventually won the event by a margin of 35 seconds.

In the West Cork Rally 2009, Keith and Greg set 6 fastest times in their Evo 9. This is something that has never before been achieved in a multi stage rally on the island of Ireland. The had some difficulties on the saturday which saw them drop between 3.5 and 4 minutes but they eventually finished a strong fourth overall just behind Uncle Denis. They won Group N by nearly 10 minutes and won both rounds of the Evo Challenge comfortably.

The Bulldog Rally of North Wales was the first round of the 2009 British Rally Championship and Keith/Greg were running second on the road. Multiple British Champion, Mark Higgins, was the No.1 seed and took the lead on the opening stage, albeit by a slender margin of 1.1 seconds. Keith was fastest on stage two by exactly the same amount to ensure that the leading duo could not be separated when arriving to first service.

Higgins managed to edge out a 2 second lead on the third stage and another 7.5 seconds on the following test to lead by 9.5 seconds at the second service. Keith reacted by taking back 6.5 seconds on the penultimate stage thereby setting up a grand finale as they were separated by just 3 seconds. Both drivers damaged a wheel at the same place on the final stage but Keith lost less time as a result and emerged from the final stage 12 seconds faster than the former British Champion to take his maiden victory on British soil.

The second round of the Championship saw Guy Wilks return to competitive action. As champion for the last two years and winner on the Pirelli rally on both those years he started from the number one berth in his Proton Satria Super 2000. Although the car was an unknown quantity on gravel, he was quickly into his stride on the first stage setting the fastest time. Keith admitted to being a little unsettled and was untidy on the stage, dropping 16 seconds to the rally leader. He headed for the second stage in 5th position as Mark Higgins, Philip Morrow and David Bogie were also ahead of him. Third fastest on that stage was enough to move him up a place past Bogie and lying fourth overnight, he was optimistic about his chances.

Wilks continued to set the pace on Saturday but Keith stayed very much in contention and importantly narrowed the gap between himself and Higgins and Morrow, who departed from the action on stage 5 following an accident. This seemed to spur on the young Corkman as he set the fastest times on stages 6 and 7. Then on stage eight Wilks ran a little wide and damaged the rear of the car, however, unknown to him, he had pushed the bumper against the exhaust pipe and further on in the stage the car became engulfed in flames. Five of the following cars stopped and used their extinguishers on the flames, however, the car was gutted.

The next two stages had to be cancelled to allow the top crews renew their extinguishers which left Keith, now in second place overall, heading into the final two stages with a deficit of 10.2 seconds. In much the same way as the previous rally had transpired, Keith took back the bulk of the time (7.8 seconds)on the penultimate stage. just 2.2 seconds separated the pair entering the final stage. On that final stage both drivers pushed hard and it was the youngster who was fastest. the margin of 4.2 seconds was enough to see him win the rally by 2 seconds. This was truly a fairytale ending after a poor start.

The third round of the 2009 BRC was the Jim Clark Memorial Rally. This is the only rally on mainland GB that is run over closed public roads. It is also recognised as a specialised event that needs to be competed on for a few years before success.

It was Keith and Greg’s first time competing here together and they were happy to be a strong second after the first stage. On the second stage however, disaster struck, as they clipped a rock and suffered a puncture, causing them to lose nearly 2 minutes to Championship rival Mark Higgins. They dropped to 9th overall, but soon began a spirited comeback with a string of fastest times that brought them to within 3 seconds of the lead with three stages remaining.

Unfortunately on the last loop they made an incorrect tyre choice and on the first stage of the loop the gap increased from 2.6 seconds to 8.2 as Keith and Greg suffered a spin. Still on the wrong tyres for the penultimate stage, Keith made the decision to get the appropriate finish and dropped another 4 seconds on that stage. The final stage was run in sunshine and suited the Irish crew, however the 1.8 miles around Duns town centre was never going to be enought to make up the deficit, they were fastest by 1.8 sec from Mark Higgins to bring the highest number of fastest times this year to 19 and raise their profile amongst rally supporters after making such a spirited comeback!!

However, second place overall was their prize for the weekend!

In preparation for the Manx 2009, they decided to compete on the Ravens Rock Rally 2009. The pace of the BRC leaders was never questioned, however the Pace of the National Championship was in question after this rally as they cruised to victory, 1-minute and 21 seconds ahead of their closest pursuer. Double National Champion Niall Maguire was the closest to the Group N crew and he remarked that their pace was ‘unbelievable’. The remainder of the top ten was in agreement as the winning margin was considerably more than is usual on these traditionally close events. His closest Group N opposition finished the rally over 3.5 mins in arrears.

The Isle of Man 2009 was always going to re-write the rallying history books. For the first time ever an Irishman led the British Rally Championship as the second half of the championship began to unfold. Mark Higgins would make history if he won the event for the fifth time. As things transpired over an enthralling 2 days of rallying, the pendulum did swing in favour of Mark Higgins as he won the event for a fourth time.

The winner had to put his hand up at the finish and give full credit to Keith and Greg, who had 10 fastest times over the weekend and until their puncture on stage 18 the rally looked as if it would go down to the wire. That was not to be, however, having come to Mark Higgins home turf and set those 10 fastest times en route to second place is something the South of Ireland lads could be proud of as Mark Higgins has, in the past been fastest on all of the stages on the island.

The Ulster International Rally was the only round of the championship that did not involve a ferry trip for the Cronin Motorsport team. With all new stages, it was also poised to be the only event where both of the top contenders would be in completely unfamiliar territory. Keith and Greg set a blistering pace from the start, pulling out a 5.4 second lead on stage one. This lead had been stretched to 12 seconds by the end of stage 5, but disaster struck on the sixth stage as the car got out of line on a series of high speed bends and they crashed out of the event. The pair also relinquished their lead in the championship, which they had held since the opening round.

It was all to play for on the final round in Yorkshire. When dropped scores were taken into consideration and the bonus points available in Yorkshire were allocated, whoever finished in front on the final round would take the championship. In typical fashion, Cronin did not disclose his thoughts to anyone, including Greg. He started stage one on maximum attack, and, although they had a few hairy moments, when they got to the finish line they were leading the rally by 1.4 seconds. More importantly, they now led their championship rival by 13.2 seconds. This lead was stretched over the next two stages and stood at 17.7 seconds before Higgins managed to claw back some time. He only managed to cut the deficit by 0.6 seconds over two stages before Keith re-asserted his authority over both the event and the championship by setting another blistering time on the repeat of stage one.

Entering the final stage, the Irishmen led the rally by 27 seconds from Stuart Jones with Mark Higgins in third place a further 9 seconds in arrears. They cruised to the end of the final stage and took a step into the history books as they won both the rally and the championship, bridging the 35-year gap since the Millstreet Maestro had brought the championship to Ireland.

Just 12 days after winning their BRC title, they again crossed the Irish Sea to compete in the Pirelli UK Star Driver Shootout and won the prize of a funded drive in the following year’s British Rally Championship, thus ensuring that they would return to defend the title in 2010.

For the 2010 season, there was a change of co-driver from the ultra-experienced Greg Shinnors to the percieved ‘Rookie’ Barry McNulty!

Many speculated that this change would cause a major upset in the Cronin ‘rhythm’.

The season’s first outing in the ‘Galway International Rally’ should have laid all those doubts to rest as the Cronin Motorsport crew were fastest on the opening test, beating all of the World Rally Car opposition. On the second stage, however, their rally came to an abrupt end as they left the road on a high-speed section.

Although out of the rally, the damage to the car was light and was repaired overnight so that they could compete on the ‘Sunday Run’. This was done primarily for the duo to get more time in the car together and, despite the fact that they were only ‘testing’, they set another fastest time and were only seconds off the leaders on many stages.

The defence of Keith’s British Rally Championship began in North Wales in March on the Bulldog International Rally. As defending Champion, Keith would be running first on the road, which he had not done since the Cork Forestry Rally in 2007. However, road position did not affect Keith, neither did the new co-driver or the new TEG Motorsport team running the car, as the Pirelli-backed car completed the first stage nearly 23 seconds faster than anybody else.

The crew extended their lead by almost 13 seconds on the second stage and went on to win the event by a margin of just over 2 minutes. It was Keith’s fourth International Rally win and Barry’s first time at this level of the podium.

Beginning the title defence in this manner must surely dispel the doubts anybody may have had about potential of this particular team …

Bulldog Rally 2010



Remember, the most exciting twists and turns are still ahead!

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