Ireland's Keith Cronin clinched a spectacular WRC3 victory at Rally Finland last weekend on only his third-ever World Rally Championship event.
The Motorsport Ireland-supported driver adopted a clever approach on his first visit to Finland – renowned for being an ultra-fast specialist event. He and co-driver Marshall Clarke belied their lack of Finnish experience to control the pace from the front and seal a stunning victory, 74.5 seconds up on their closest rivals.
After problems on the first two earlier rounds of the championship, the Cork driver set out to have a clean event and secure important points for both the WRC3 and Citroën Top Driver championships.
However, on the opening day he was forced to lift the pace in his Charles Hurst Citroën DS3 to keep in touch with the front-runners. After going fourth fastest on the opening stage, just 1.6 seconds down on the leader, he set second fastest time on stages two and three then went fastest on the 8.3km fourth test.
Cronin was locked in a battle with Northern Irishman Alastair Fisher and the pair sailed ahead of championship leader Sebastien Chardonnet. At the end of day one Fisher held the overnight lead with Cronin just 9.2 seconds back in second place.
It all changed spectacularly on day two, though, when the action returned to the famous stages around host town Jyvaskyla. On stage eight, the 13.92km run through Palsankyla, Fisher rolled in dramatic fashion and his car was too badly damaged to continue. Cronin's waiting game paid off and he moved into the WRC3 lead by over 53 seconds. He then seized the initiative and set five fastest times to extend his lead to 94 seconds by the end of day two.
On the final day Cronin cruised to victory, despite a small scare on the opening stage when he had a turbo problem.
The win leapfrogs Cronin to the top of the Citroen Top Driver championship table with a three point lead. The one-make series offers a prize drive in the 2014 world championship and the victory takes Cronin one step closer to his dream.
“I'm really happy to be back in the battle for the championship. Winning here in Finland means so much to me – especially at my first attempt at the rally," he said. "It's a legendary event and I can't believe we came to Finland for the first time and won. The plan for this rally was to find a comfortable pace and have a trouble free drive and I really couldn't have asked for much more. It was difficult on the final day as we had a comfortable lead and I didn't want to make any mistakes.”