Keith Cronin & Greg Shinnors win Bulldog International Rally North Wales
Irishmen Keith Cronin & Greg Shinnors took an excellent first victory on the opening round of the 2009 MSA British Rally Championship, Bulldog International Rally North Wales this Saturday. [AUDIO]

The battle with triple Champion Mark Higgins and Bryan Thomas began right at the start of the event, the pair split by just 1.1 seconds in 22 year old Cronin’s favour, after the opening stage in the wet Welsh forests. Higgins took that back on the next stage, leaving the pair exactly level as the crews returned to service.

With Higgins eking out a two second lead on the next, extending that to nine by second service, it looked like the Manxman may have the upper hand. He struggled with transmission settings though, locking the centre differential and on the penultimate stage Cronin took six seconds back.

The final stage was quite rough and Higgins hit a pothole, forcing the front wheel back into the arch. Cronin pressed the advantage and took twelve seconds off Higgins to finish nine clear at the finish of the 82 mile gravel event. [AUDIO]

Stuart Jones and Andy Bull took third after Adam Gould/Seb Marshall and Andreas Sjölander/Håkan Jacobsson had held the position earlier. Sjölander retired with fuel pump failure and Gould battled back to fourth after breaking a rear suspension arm. Jones’ third place was a surprise to the Welshman, having had a puncture early on. The car looked decidedly second hand at the finish too, rolling the car on a hairpin on stage three.

By virtue of Higgins’ and Gould’s performances, Pirelli TEG Sport leads the MSA British Teams Rally Championship with a three point lead over newcomer Team JRM Lico. Stuart Jones and David Bogie took their points however, the early demise of Rob Swann and the accident of Euan Thorburn, leaves the Revolution Wheels team yet to score.

Top of the BRC Juniors, who are limited to two wheel drive and a maximum age of 26, was 22 year-old Tom Walster, going into the lead of the hotly contested category ahead of sixteen young hotshots. Craig Breen was his closest rival, over a minute and a half behind, with Welsh youngster Jason Pritchard just six seconds further back.

Cronin’s level headed approach and stunning stage times were also sufficient to put him first on the list for the end of season Pirelli Star Driver final, a prize that Adam Gould took in 2008. The youngster from Bristol had an excellent first event in the Pirelli funded Impreza, stage two aside, he was never outside the top four overall.

The Pirelli Cup, which rewards the runners up from last year’s shootout, was headed by Jason Pritchard, who takes a cheque for £1000 for his sterling efforts. Luke Pinder, although in a much less powerful Swift, was the second Cup driver home, winning £500 on his first event in the car.

Tom Walster overcame a complete loss of brakes in the middle of the day, to take a fine Rally 3 win in his new Renault Clio, ahead of Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts in a Fiesta, Mark Donnelly/Paddy Robinson were on the third podium step in a similar car.

The Fiesta SportTrophy was settled after four stages of the International event, which has an entry split across both rallies. The BRC Challenge, which runs alongside the main series, hosted the eventual victors in the FST, with local driver Matt Edwards and his co-driver Andy Murphy dominating from the start. Irishmen Breen and Donnelly had the benefit of recce, as they contested the full International, but they had no answer for the Welshman and took second and third respectively.

Rally 2 and the Citroen Racing Trophy UK were won by 2008 C2R2 Cup Champion Jason Pritchard with new co-driver, fellow Welshman Andrew Edwards. [AUDIO] They struggled in the wet conditions early on but led until first service. Martin McCormack/Phil Clarke took the advantage with a storming stage three time, but Pritchard quite literally rallied in the closing stages, finishing fourteen seconds ahead. 2008 Swift Sport Cup Champions Mark Gamble/Steve Link switch to a Citroën netted them third, although they were the only C2 crew not running the more powerful Max kit.

Australian Molly Taylor won the Swift Sport Cup and Rally 1 with English co-driver Jemma Bellingham alongside. The close battle with Richard Sykes & Simon Taylor tipped in their favour when Sykes’ gearbox broke on the final stage. Luke Pinder/Peter Scott had moved into the runner’s up spot after Sykes bent his suspension, the Yorkshireman having struggled all day with a broken rear damper. Irish duo Joseph McGonigle/Patrick Brides inherited third Rally 1 place in their Honda Civic, despite being frustrated by their own pace, while Gordon Nichol/Emma Morrison took fourth R1, but third Swift after a day of getting to grips with a new pacenote system.

Brothers Steve & Tony Graham gained the upper hand in the Diesel Rally Cup after rival Fin McCaul retired with a broken propshaft joint. The Graham’s distinctively liveried Astra Diesel ran a standard gearbox after problems with the competition item last year, Steve declaring himself happy with its performance.

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