KEITH CRONIN may have come away empty-handed from Rally Barum in the Czech Republic last weekend but he covered himself in glory with an outstanding performance in the factory-supported Proton S2000 car for the eight stages he contested.
Although he had never competed on the event or driven the car competitively before, he troubled the leaders for the first half of the event until he crashed out on the eighth stage. Cronin tested in the dry and competed in the wet -- a disadvantage for someone learning a completely new car for the first time.
The Ballylickey driver mixed with the best S2000 drivers and, apart from on one occasion, was in the top 15 on all road stages he drove. He was 3.8 seconds adrift of the leader -- and ahead of Kris Meeke -- on the sixth stage.
His performance impressed team principal Chris Mellors who opined: "To come here first time and set the times he was doing was exceptional.
"He had a huge weight on his shoulders driving a car he was not used to, on roads he had never seen, against the best S2000 competition in the world -- and he didn't let himself down. He put in a head-turning performance."
The West Cork driver could well re-appear in a yellow Proton in Scotland later in the year.
Niall McShea put in a stirring performance in the second Proton only to be sidelined following Cronin's retirement when the Fermanagh driver heard strange noises coming from the bell-housing.
p Kris Meeke switches his Peugeot 207 for a Citroen DS3 R3 for the French-championship counting Mont Blanc rally this weekend. Following Bryan Bouffier's successful run to fifth overall in Ulster, Meeke, with regular co-driver Paul Nagle, will give the car its second R3 class outing this weekend.
p Daniel McKenna -- the star of the Ulster Rally -- wanted to measure himself against the British competition.
In order to do so he registered for the British championship and rented an Evo9 and then pitched himself against the might of the leading British championship contenders just to compare times.
He astounded many with his performance and was in fourth place until he crashed out on the penultimate stage, but his performance earned him the Pirelli star drive accolade and a chance to win a funded drive on next year's British championship -- possibly replacing Keith Cronin.
He returns to his favourite Escort Mk2 and tops the 80plus entry on the Castle AC stages event on Sunday. He heads a quality clubman entry including Trevor Mulligan, Russell Woods, Michael Curran, Gordon Rogers, Alan Sheridan and Peter Wilson. Based at Oldcastle House Hotel, the event gets underway at 11.15am.
p As usual, the Hewison series gets underway in Cork this weekend when Munster MC host the opening round of the 2010/11 championship at Mount Vernon off South Link Road Cork on Saturday followed by the Cork MC contribution on the following day at the same venue.
p Wexford MC chairman Eugene French confirmed the club is fully committed to staging this year's Riverbank Hotel Dick Bailey stages rally despite entries being on the light side.
He said: "We are still under-subscribed and are actively seeking entries. We are fully aware the event could be run at a loss but we are 100 per cent committed to the event going ahead."
Damien Cole -- a regular visitor to Wexford -- returns in his Focus WRC was an early entry and he is joined by fellow cross-channel drivers Simon Mauger and Neil Williams who will lay the marker for the Escort Mk2 brigade. Leading Irish entries to-date include Wesley Patterson, Trevor Mulligan, Johnny Murphy and Graham Scallan.
The Moffett family have entered three cars, including Sam who is challenging for the Irish Evo crown. He is tied with Neil McCance in second place in the series, eight points behind leader Brendan Cumiskey for the final two rounds in Wexford.
p With just 13 points separating leader Gareth MacHale and fourth-placed Craig Breen in the Irish Tarmac championship, all interest will centre on the final round in Cork in four weeks time when 50pc bonus points will be added to the scores. Munster MC has released details of the Orchard Motorsport-supported event. Based at Silver Springs Moran Hotel Cork, the 15-stage route will combine a number of old classic Cork 20 stages with some new stages and centralised servicing in Macroom.
p As Donegal MC bring down the curtain on the hillclimb season with the final double-header at Knockalla Port salon this weekend, the club released details of their next event -- the Harvest Rally next month. Based at Jackson's Hotel Ballybofey the event is the final round of the Border championship and incorporates a junior section.