Cronin charges into Manx lead but ti­tle ri­val Ah­lin keeps pres­sure on

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY SAMMY HAMILL

KEITH Cronin led the way into the night on the first leg of the Rally Isle of Man in his bid for a fourth Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship.

But the man at the top of the stand­ings go­ing into this week­end’s fi­nal round, Fredrik Ah­lin, was shad­ow­ing him closely.

The Manx event is di­vided into two scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties over three days and Cronin needs to win both to have a chance of over­haul­ing the Swedish driver.

The re­cent Ul­ster Rally win­ner from Cork made a strong start yes­ter­day evening, set­ting fastest times on three of the open­ing four stages in his M-Sport Ford Fi­esta.

Tucked in sec­ond was Matt Ed­wards in another Fi­esta, just six sec­onds back, with Ah­lin safely in third place in his Skoda Fabia, a fur­ther 12 sec­onds be­hind.

Rhys Yates, Hugh Hunter and Alex Laf­fey, all in Fi­es­tas, com­pleted the top six.

The bat­tle for the Bri­tish ju­nior ti­tle cen­tres on two young Ul­ster driv­ers, Wil­liam Creighton and Cal­lum Devine, and their sea­son-long see-saw duel con­tin­ued last night.

Creighton nosed ahead on the first stage, but by just six-10ths of a sec­ond, and then he put his R2 Peu­geot 208 off the road on stage two, drop­ping 20 sec­onds and putting Devine in front.

The pen­du­lum swung again on stage three when Devine clipped a kerb on the Ma­rine Drive spec­ta­tor stage, break­ing a wheel rim of his Opel Adam and losing close to two min­utes.

It dropped the Claudy driver back down the field while Creighton climbed into the top 10, en­hanc­ing his chances of claim­ing the £30,000 ju­nior prize.

Mean­while, the Millers Oil North­ern Ire­land Hill­climb Cham­pi­onship comes to a con­clu­sion to­mor­row at Knock­agh on the out­skirts of Car­rick­fer­gus.

Re­vived in 2016 by the Ul­ster Au­to­mo­bile Club af­ter a gap of more than 40 years, it was won by Richard McGimpsey in his sin­gle-seater RMG Turbo.

The New­tow­nards driver, son of a for­mer cham­pion, has had a strong fin­ish to the cur­rent sea­son, but it came too late to stop Chris Hous­ton re­tain­ing his ti­tle.

With another cham­pi­onship safely in the bag, Hous­ton skips to­mor­row’s fi­nal round leav­ing McGimpsey to chase down a sec­ond suc­ces­sive Knock­agh win and, if the weather per­mits, beat his own record of 45.34 sec­onds.

Spon­sored by lo­cal Hyundai deal­er­ship Can­non Mo­tors, the three-quar­ter mile hill runs from the top of the Wood­burn Road in Car­rick­fer­gus up to­wards the monument which looks out over Belfast Lough.

Keith Cronin: off to fly­ing start

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