Irish rally driver Keith Cronin will make his competitive debut in the World Rally Championship next week when he kicks off his 2013 campaign on Rally de Portugal.
Cronin, already a triple British rally champion, is contesting the WRC3 series this year – a special category within the main world championship for two-wheel-drive cars.
Alongside that, he's also competing in the Citroen Top Driver series which sees a host of the world's best young talent fight it out in identical Citroen DS3 R3 rally cars on control Pirelli tyres. The six-round challenge ensures the highest levels of competition with Citroen rewarding the winner with a six-event programme in its all-new R5 specification DS3 in 2014. It's a massive prize and Cronin will be up against eight other young hot shots all pushing with the same aim.
But the Cork driver, who is backed by Motorsport Ireland, is hoping his experience with the DS3 will put him in a strong position. He's dominated the British championship for three years but the step up to the world level is not an easy one – especially in Portugal.
Rally de Portugal is renowned for being tough on cars. The three-day event is based in Faro but most of the competitive action takes place in the hills above the popular holiday destination. The event is famed for its difficult stages, a mix of wide fast gravel roads and narrow twisty tracks, with hard bedrock surfaces testing tyres, cars and drivers to the limit.
But the roads aren't the only challenge Cronin and co-driver Marshall Clarke will face. It's position early in the season means Rally de Portugal often gets hits with torrential spring rain and last year's rally saw the normally dry, dusty roads turn to mud baths.
“This event is going to be a tough start to my world rally career but I've worked hard to get this far and I plan to make the most of the opportunity,” he vowed. “WRC3 and the Citroen Top Driver championship will both be very competitive and my focus for this first event is to get some points on the board and just take it stage by stage.
“Pacenotes will play a crucial part in the event and that's probably where I'm at a little disadvantage but we've been going through the event DVD to get a feel for the stages and the conditions we will face next week.
“The step up to the world championship is an exciting move for me and it's thanks to the support of my sponsors and supporters at home in Ireland that we've been able to get to this point.
“I will be trying my best next week and am focused on doing a top job for them and to ensure we have the best possible start to the series.”