Kingdom hosts thrilling rally with Gass in pole positionTARMAC Championship leader Darren Gass faces a trio of former winners itching for glory in arguably Ireland's biggest motorsport event, The Cartell.ie International Rally of the Lakes in Killarney this weekend.
Top scores in the opening two events, the Galway Rally and The Circuit of Ireland, have given Subaru driver Gass a handy advantage over Eugene Donnelly heading to Kerry, but the 23-year-old from Markethill, Co Armagh, faces stiff competition from some of the top names of the past decade of Irish rallying.
Chasing his first win in Kerry, Gass is seeded fourth, one place ahead of 2003 Killarney winner Donnelly, who will make the most of any inclement weather conditions in his underpowered but super nimble current spec Mini WRC.
First off the starting ramp will be last year's winner Darragh O'Riordan from Cork who, partnered by Tony McDaid, has emerged as one of the top wildcard picks in any event since his breakthrough win 12 months ago and will surely challenge for honours if he's still in contention by Sunday's fabled Moll's Gap and Healy Pass stages.
Following them off the start ramp on Friday will be 2006 and 2009 Killarney winner Tim McNulty (Subaru) who will be anxious to avoid the mechanical failures which put him out of the rally early on last year while leading and cruelly robbed him of victory in 2010 when the gearbox failed while holding a comfortable lead with just three stages to go.
The event will get under way with a ceremonial start in the town centre on Friday evening with competitive motoring commencing on the first stage at Moll's Gap on Saturday morning.
The Saturday route consists of two runs over each of the stages at Moll's Gap, Beallaghbeama, Caragh Lake and Shanera with centralised service at the Liebherr Container Cranes factory at Fossa.
First stage on Sunday is again at Moll's Gap followed by two runs over the Healy Pass, Cod's Head and Ardgroom with the final stage at Killmackillogue.
Meanwhile, Keith Cronin is back in contention for a third British Rally Championship title after his thrilling victory on last weekend's Pirelli International Rally but the Ballylickey man may not contest the rest of the series.
Cronin, Ireland's only double BRC title winner, made his comeback to rallying following a 17-month layoff with second place in a one-off drive in a Renault Twingo at round two before switching to a Michael O'Brien backed Citroen GB machine for last weekend's event in Cumbria.
He edged a tremendous duel with Finnish team mate Jarkko Nikara to claim his third victory in the event, moving to third place in the standings, seven points behind Welshman Elfyn Evans despite missing the first round.
However, Cronin's shoestring budget is being stretched in different directions and the current plan is to contest the next round of the French Championship on May 20.
"I'll do one or two rounds of the French series and maybe, if funds allow, a world championship round," says Cronin. "At the moment there are no plans to do the Jim Clark Rally."
A third BRC title seems of negligible value to Cronin, who at 25 still harbours ambitions of a full-time driving career but who acknowledges that finance is a perennial bugbear
"Unless you've got about €2m it's hard but we'll see how these events work out."