Keith Cronin and Greg Shinnors dominated the opening weekend of competition in the 2009 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland, winning both round one and round two on the Quality Hotels West Cork Rally.

Cronin/Shinnors were quickest of the Mitsubishi runners on the first stage of round one and were on blistering form, posting a time that was good enough to see them third overall. However, on the very next stage they slid into a ditch when the wipers smeared the windscreen and Cronin momentarily lost visibility. After losing over a minute getting the car back on the road, they were on their way again, but a broken intercooler pipe meant the car was down on power.

For the remaining three Evo Challenge competitors, who were seeded further down the field, it was to be a frustrating day, with three stages cancelled due to accidents taking place ahead of them, the first of which was on SS1.

After completing just one stage before the first service halt, Stanley Ballantine/Donnacha O'Callagan were second of the Evos, with Liam Egan/Colin Harkness third after suffering a loss of power towards the end of SS2 due to a split turbo pipe. Tom White/Robert Murphy were in fourth, but concerned about their car's transmission as the driver was having to hold the gear level to stop it jumping out of second.

A repeat run of the first two stages followed and Cronin/Shinnors extended their Evo Challenge lead to a margin of over two minutes minutes before the second service halt, whilst for the others, there was another hold up when stage three was cancelled.

Ballantine/O'Callaghan were consolidating second place and having a good run in their first rally together. But for Egan/Harkness is was not their lucky day: the power steering stopped working on SS4 dropping them over ten minutes when they tried to fix the problem in the stage. White/Murphy's transmission troubles were getting no better as they had now lost fifth gear.

The next pair of stages almost saw Cronin/Shinnor's run come to an end, when they survived a 'flat in fifth' spin on SS6 and found themselves going backwards down the stage at high-speed. Thankfully, they came to a halt unscathed, although it took over a minute to restart the stalled engine. After a good run through SS5, the remaining trio of Evos were to miss yet another stage when SS6 was also cancelled.

Cronin opted for a slightly more cautious approach on the final two stages and, other than a loose turbo pipe, he and Shinnors made it back to Clonakitly to scoop top points in the first round of the Irish Evo Challenge. Ballantine/O'Callaghan finished a strong second and, just when it looked like third was in the bag for White/Murphy, their car's gearbox finally expired on the last stage of the day, allowing Egan/Harkness to fill the final podium position.

With White/Murphy's Lancer repaired overnight by the James Foley Rallysport team, the full complement of Evo Challenge crews set off for another eight stages on Sunday. Again, it was Cronin/Shinnors who set the pace and pulled out a margin of nearly a minute by the time the cars reached the first service halt after the first pair of stages.

Ballentine/O'Callaghan assumed second place once more, but for Egan/Harkness and White/Murphy history started to repeat itself: the turbo-charger on Egan's car lost its boost at the end of the second stage of the day, whilst White was seeing his gearbox issues return.

Cronin/Shinnors continued to forge ahead, their four fastest overall stage times on Sunday raising a few eyebrows amongst the other competitors in both Mitsubishis and WRC cars. In contrast, White/Murphy's rally came to an end on stage 11 when the gearbox finally cried enough, whilst for Egan/Harkness, the character-building issues still persisted, their car now overheating due to a leaking radiator.

Then, just when it looked like Ballentine/O'Callaghan were assured of a comfortable second place, a problem with their car's centre differential saw them coast to a halt on SS14, allowing Egan/Harkness to inherit the position. But it was Cronin and Shinnors' weekend, their impressive performance being the talk of the rally.

"I'm very pleased with the way things went this weekend," Cronin said. "We were lucky to get away with a few things on Saturday, but Sunday went really well and the car was fantastic. The result is just what we wanted."



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