Moonraker test crucial for Cronin’s away-day Grist challenge

Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin will start Saturday’s Nicky Grist Stages in prime form following last weekend’s Moonraker Forestry Rally win.

The Volkswagen Polo R5 crew lead the British Rally Championship after winning its previous round – the Jim Clark Rally. The Irishmen know, however, that taking on the best in BRC on Welsh gravel will be an altogether different task.

“I don’t expect it to be easy at all, the Welsh forests are always an ‘away fixture’ for us, even though we’ve been there many times before,” said Cronin. “I know Osian [Pryce] will certainly be very strong there.

“James Williams has come on very much this season, and Elliot Payne won the Kielder Forest Rally a couple of weeks ago, he’s one to watch too.”

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The four-time British Rally Champion is seeded first for the Nicky Grist ahead of championship rivals Pryce, Payne, and Williams. Several other classes will start each of the eight stages ahead of the top BRC competitors to ease the pain of road sweeping for the four-wheel-drive crews.

Cronin and Galvin hold a 10-point lead in BRC over Williams and Dai Roberts. 2021 BRC runners-up and Clacton Rally winners, Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan, are a further eight points back after their Jim Clark Rally disqualification.

The Jim Clark was Cronin’s first BRC victory since 2017’s title-deciding Isle of Man Rally. While a fifth BRC crown is his ultimate goal this year, Cronin’s head remains focused on the job at hand – how to topple his Welsh rivals in Builth Wells.

“I’m glad we had the opportunity to do the Moonraker to get back into the zone for gravel.

“It went well for us – it was nice to get the win on home ground. But it was also very useful for trying different settings and springs.

“The format was ideal as we did two stages, and then repeated the same two, perfect for comparison.

“Then there were two different stages in the afternoon.

“Hopefully, the work we did will pay off on the Nicky Grist, but you never know until you get there, what suits in Ireland may not translate in Wales.

“You might say gravel is gravel, but there can be differences in the type of grading used in the forests sometimes, and the car can behave quite differently as a result.”

Photos by Martin Walsh and Cian Don