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hungry cronin ready to motor

KEITH CRONIN gets a first opportunity to settle into his new surrounds as he meets his new team and gets a first drive in the fully funded Pirelli Subaru N15 in which he will defend his British title this year.

The 23-year-old Bantry driver will test at Sweet Lamb today to familiarise himself with the car and the team before heading to Cumbria where he will do '00' duties on the Malcolm Wilson rally as a shakedown before the opening round at the end of the month.

"The test will be my first time with the team and the first time driving the car. I'm looking forward to the new challenge and to working with the team," the British champion said before leaving for Sweet Lamb.

p Kris Meeke leads a small European contingent on the long-haul trip to Brazil for the Curitiba Rally -- the second IRC round -- which gets under way today. The Ulsterman starts with the advantage of winning there last year while the Skoda trio -- Juho Hanninen, Jan Kopecky and Guy Wilks -- will be making their Brazilian debut.

p As the world rally championship moves from the snowy, freezing Swedish rally to the heat and dust of Mexico, Mikko Hirvonen will want to capitalise on his lead as he starts his 100th world championship event. Arch-rival Sebastian Loeb will be keen to claim his fourth win in Mexico and close the gap on the Finn.

After a difficult start to his championship campaign, Kimi Raikkonen was targeting a finish on his first gravel event, but his efforts were thwarted when he had to pull out of his first test because of a back injury from his F1 days.

p Championship leader Pat O'Connell, top-seed John Reid and Andrew Purcell should set the pace as they renew their rivalry for the Petro Systems forestry championship title. The trio head the 60-strong field in the Carrick-on-Suir MC Willie Loughman Memorial event based at the Tipperary town on Sunday.

Craig Breen and Citroen Cup leader Robert Barrable are using the event to get more gravel experience in their new machines ahead of their British championship campaigns.

p Although the championship has been decided in favour of Tommy Graham from Andrew Morris, the organising Kildare MC expects a full entry as it hosts the final rallycross meeting of the season at Mondello Park on Sunday.

However, most of the action is expected in the junior championship when double winner Niall Murray challenges Simon Quinn, Paul Barrett and Ulster pair Andrew Patterson and Mark Francis for the final victory of the season. Murray has a mountain to climb if he is to clinch the title as he starts 10 points in arrears of Quinn.

p While the reigning British rally champion will be on '00' duties ahead of the field on the Malcolm Wilson Trophy event, another past Billy Coleman Award winner, Owen Murphy, will be in the thick of the competition in his Evo IX as he prepares for his British championship campaign.

Jonathan Cunningham is one of the front-runners for the Fiesta UK Challenge, which is run in conjunction with the main Malcolm Wilson event.

The Galway star -- runner-up in the national junior championship and Billy Coleman Award nominee last year -- will be co-driven by fellow M-Sport employee Richard Millener. Double Irish junior rallycross champion Daniel O'Brien should feature on the leaderboard, while Elfyn Evans -- 2008 Irish and British Fiesta champion -- makes a welcome return to the series after a one-year absence from rallying.

p Welshman Melvyn Evans won the opening Dunlop round from Derek McGarrity with Group N champion Kevin Kelleher third at Nenagh last Sunday.

Askeaton teenager Kevin O'Connor drove superbly to take an impressive win in the junior championship, while Daniel McKenna fought back from 91st on the opening stage to finish 22nd overall and take the Driver of the Day award.

McGarrity won the opening round of the Northern Irish championship the day before.

p Status Grand Prix have signed 18-year-old Russian Ivan Lukasevich for their GP3 programme this year. One of three drivers signed, he will take part in the official two-day test at the Paul Ricard circuit, Le Castellet, France, starting today.

The team -- winner of the A1 World Cup last year with driver Adam Carroll -- will run a three-car team in the newly launched GP3 series supporting seven European F1 Grand Prix rounds this year.