West Cork rally driver Keith Cronin has enjoyed a superb sporting career. The Ballylickey driving star enjoyed a memorable season in 2017, which culminated in Keith and his co-driver Mikie Galvin claiming the British Rally Championship, the decisive final stage, which was held in the Isle of Man last September by a mere 0.1 second and one point ahead of their nearest challengers. Keith’s latest success at the British Rally Championship was the fourth time in his illustrious driving career he had captured the prestigious British Rally Championship. John Bohane catches with the sports star, as he looks back on his glorious driving career and shares his hopes for the future.
Keith was recognised for his driving prowess when he won the Manley Memorial Cup recently. The West Cork man was delighted to accept the 2017 Irish International Driver of the Year award, which is voted for by members of the Irish Motorsport Press. Keith accepted his prize at a glittering awards ceremony held in the Mansion House. “It was a nice award to win. It was a great honour and great recognition as all motorsport disciplines are up for the award. It was a great accolade to win.”
Keith and his co-driver Mikie Galvin claimed the 2017 British Rally Championship in dramatic fashion. The title showdown went to the very last round in the Isle of Man. Keith and Mike won the rally by 0.1 of a second which propelled them to a stunning one point win over their nearest rivals. Keith was thrilled to emerge victorious for the fourth time at the British Rally Championships. The dramatic finale made it even sweeter for the modest racing enthusiast. “It was definitely the toughest one yet, which probably made it the most rewarding. It is up there with winning my first British Rally Championship as one of the highlights. Going into the last day victory was out of my hands and it wasn’t looking very promising. Luckily a few things went right for me on the last day and we just about won a dramatic race. It went all the way to the wire. We just got over the line by the smallest of margins. It was a sweet victory and it took a while for it all to sink it. There was a bit of disbelief initially when I found out I won, it was a great feeling however.”
Keith’s recent success in the British Rally Championship enabled him to equal driving great Roger Clark’s impressive haul of four championship titles. Should Keith decide to enter this year’s British Rally Championships once again, he will be keen to target the historic five championships titles garnered by rally legend Jimmy McRae.
“It was great to match Roger Clark’s record. It would be nice to match Jimmy’s historic haul of five championship titles, but I’m not sure yet if I will be competing in the British Rally Championships later this year.”
Success in the 2017 British Rally Championship concluded another very successful season for the Ballylickey native. Keith reserved his best performances for the latter part of the rally season, which ultimately propelled him to victory in the biggest stage of all. “It was a great year especially the finish. I was disappointed with the start to the season, but I’m happy we were able to turn it around. Winning the British Rally Championship was a great win to finish the 2017 rally season.”
The ambitious rally driver is still in the process of finalising his plans and drives for the current year. His consistently excellent performances in recent years have led to strong and repeated calls for Keith to compete at the World Rally Championship. “I have no definite plans yet. I will just have to wait and see what deals we can get together.”
Following his success in the British Rally Championship, Keith was afforded a heroes welcome upon his return to Kealkil. The ace driver was delighted to celebrate his success amongst his proud friends, family and neighbours. “It was really nice to have a night like that locally, especially as I have had had great support locally through the years.”
Pursing a career in rally driving requires a lot of time, commitment and especially a big financial investment due to the expensive nature of the sport. Keith is indebted to his many sponsors for the pivotal role they have played in his successful sporting career. “It can be a very difficult sport to compete in, but I have been very lucky with sponsors such as Tria (West Cork Oil), Cremin Coaches and M O’Brien Plant Hire. Rallying takes up a lot of my time, but it is not a full time job for me. I work full time in our business in Ballylickey.”
Keith, who is 31-years-old, first took up rally driving at the tender age of 16. Rally driving was always a popular sport within his family. Keith was happy to follow in the family tradition. “I competed in rallying first when I was 16-years old; I was a navigator for my uncle for a couple of events before I started driving when I was 17. It was through my uncle and father that I got involved. I have always been around the sport. It is a great sport to pursue. You have to be very focused and be able to hold good concentration for long periods of time. If you lose either it can result in an accident. Luckily, I’ve never been too seriously injured in an accident.”
Keith would love to compete in the WRC in the foreseeable future. Keith acknowledges that the finance require to compete in the World Rally Championship could thwart his ambitions. “I would love to get the opportunity to compete in the World Rally Championship some day. However you need to be able to fund the first couple of years there so that the main teams will see you. It is a big problem as I don’t think I will ever be able to get the funding together to put myself out there.”
The West Cork rally star can content himself with the fact he has established himself as one of the best Irish rally drivers to have emerged in recent years, while his haul of four British Championship Titles has firmly enshrined his name in the history books forever.