Four-time British Rally Champion Keith Cronin ensured his chase for a fifth title was kept firmly alive, by taking a sensational Voyonic Grampian Forest Rally win on Saturday [13 August].
The Banchory-based event saw a blistering array of top-flight rally drivers from around the UK and beyond assemble to tackle the popular motorsport event, with six stages and over 43 miles of competitive driving in the Durris, Fetteresso and Drumtochty Forests in store.
And it would be the Irish crew of Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin who would almost dominate proceedings, taking their Volkswagen Polo GTi R5 to a breath-taking win, cementing their place at the head of the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship standings.
Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan would take the runner-up spot in their similar machine, whilst Ruairi Bell and Max Freeman survived a final stage brush with the scenery to round out the podium in their Skoda Fabia R5.
Around 85 drivers and co-drivers would head to the region as the Stonehaven and District Motor Club organised event once again welcomed the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship and KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championships to the Kincardineshire woods. With fans welcomed back into the forests, they were treated to a spectacular display of flat-out driving in the dry and dusty conditions, the lack of visibility for drivers making the challenge even greater.
Leading the field away was Osian Pryce in his Volkswagen Polo and he would have the distinct advantage of having no dust in his path. But Cronin was on fine form, winning all but one of the event’s six stages in a masterclass display of precision driving. Try as they might, the chasing pack couldn’t catch the Irishman and Cronin returned to the Milton of Crathes rally base to spray the champagne on Saturday evening.
“It's great to get the win, as I said at the start of the rally, we really did need it,” said a delighted Cronin.
“With the championship going to Wales next it's always going to be difficult to beat Osian at home so it was really important to get out front and manage it from there. It's our first BRC win on gravel in while too, so it feels good”.
“That’s exactly what we needed for the championship. At this level it’s not always enough to keep getting the podiums it’s been a very important result. The changes we made from the last rally [to the car] seemed to have worked and the win could well prove vital for our championship. It’s been a great day for us”.
Behind him, the battle unravelled during the day with Ruairi Bell hot on Cronin’s heels. Pryce pushed too but Bell impressed on only his second gravel rally in R5 machinery. Sitting second heading into the final stage, Bell would need to keep pushing to hold on to his spot; but pushed too hard.
Visiting a ditch and some trees, Bell lost a chunk of time to hand Pryce the runner-up spot and just managed to salvage third.
James Williams and Dai Roberts showed their hand on more than one occasion during the day in their Hyundai i20 R5. A second fastest time on the Drumtochty test showed their capability, but another tough day in the office and the return of the niggles that have plagued him for the last few events, saw the pairing take fourth.
Rounding out the top five were Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke in their Polo GTi R5. A difficult day for the crew saw them salvage what they could from their first trip to the Kincardineshire forests.
In the Scottish Rally Championship, the fight was equally as straightforward for the top points scorers David Bogie and John Rowan. Bogie was eager to put his Scottish Rally retirement behind him and took his new Ford Fiesta Rally2 into the SRC lead on the opener, and was never headed, taking sixth overall in the process.
David Henderson and Chris Lees tried as hard to catch the leaders, matching them for pace on the afternoon’s loop but would settle for second SRC crew home in their similar machine, whilst Hugh Brunton and Drew Sturrock completed the SRC podium with eighth overall.
It would be a tricky day for local drivers as Banchory’s Bruce McCombie suffered transmission issues in his Focus WRC. It would be Huntly’s John Wink who upheld the regional honours as he and co-driver Neil Shanks took their Hyundai i20 R5 to a top ten position.
The rally had also partnered with Carbon Positive Motorsport to provide carbon offsetting for all competitors and organisers' event vehicles, as part of a long-term roadmap and commitment to mitigate the event's carbon footprint.
The event has chosen, as part of its environmental plans, to take steps to mitigate its carbon footprint by using high-quality UK-sourced and certified carbon offsetting projects. The rally is on track to offset over 21,000kg of CO2e, believed to be the highest level of voluntary carbon offsetting from any motorsport event in Scotland to date.