Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward will carry start number 1 for Sol Rally Barbados 2013 next weekend after winning yesterday’s Scotiabank King of the Hill, the final shakedown before the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International, in their Suzuki SX4 WRC.
On a day when rain threatened, but held off, thousands of motor sport fans and their families lined the 2.5-kilometre Luke Hill course in St. Lucy, the island’s northern-most parish, for six hours of competition between nearly 90 cars, battling in 15 classes.
Armstrong said: “We had a really good time today [yesterday] and were definitely pushing hard from the start. It was a bit of a task, when we saw early on that we were about two seconds off Paul Bird on such a short stage, but we knew where we could regain some of that time and we worked on it.”
The practice run, which started shortly after 10 a.m., was the only one of the four subject to any significant delays, following a number of incidents. Last year’s King of the Hill winner, former United Kingdom national rally champion Paul Bird, set the pace, clocking 1m 19.30s, in the Ford Focus WRC08, 1.7secs ahead of Steve Perez (Focus WRC07), another ex-UK Champion. Armstrong was third, eight-tenths adrift of Perez, but two previous local winners, Paul Bourne and Roger Skeete, both stalled on the line, so were well down the order.
Driving the Subaru Impreza WRC S12, Skeete said: “We had some launch control issues which we believe may be hydraulics, so have to do some problem solving there.”
Bourne, troubled by alternator (solved) and gearshift (not solved) problems during the week, lost time all day, manual shifting in the Focus WRC07, to finish 17th. On the first official run, Bird improved to 1:17.64, while Skeete posted a near-identical time to Bird’s practice run to jump to second (1:19.35), with Armstrong still third (1:19.61) and Perez (1:19.92) now fourth. All four improved on the second run, but the order remained the same, ready for the final run, with the top 10 in reverse order.
Perez found another 1.3 secs, which briefly promoted him to second, but a massive improvement of nearly 2.0 secs to 1:16.73 launched Armstrong into the lead; Skeete improved also, sufficient to consolidate third place, then Bird’s final run was his slowest since practice, which he put down to dropping a wheel off the road early on the hill.
Behind this four-way fight among the WRC-1 cars (those built after the end of 2003), the WRC-2 cars and the leading two-wheel-drives were scrapping for slots in the top 10.
After the second official run, Britain’s Kevin Procter was fifth overall, back after a three-year absence in the Impreza WRC S7, but an all-out final run from another former UK Champion Roger Duckworth (Impreza WRC S6), promoted him to fifth, after early anti-lag issues. Procter slipped to eighth, while local Toyota dealer Roger Hill (Toyota Corolla WRC) made his only top 10 appearance of the day when it counted, finishing ninth.
The short course cut the time gap between the WRC cars and top two wheel drives, five of them lying sixth to 10th after the second official run, the top four covered by less than one second: Josh Read (Toyota Starlet), Roger Mayers (WR Starlet) – brother Barry was also 10th in the shared car – Ian Warren (Suzuki Swift) and Brett Clarke Citroen C2).
Mayers tops two-wheel drives
While Read improved on his third run time by nine-tenths, Mayers found a little over one sec to end the day top two-wheel drive and sixth overall, just two-tenths between them; and Warren (10th) also stayed in the top 10 finish, while Clarke slipped to 13th.
More than half the 28 International crews entered finished in top three class positions, two really shaking up the local landscape. Reigning modified 7 champion Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) was pushed harder than ever before by Irish newcomer Tommy Doyle (Renault Clio R3), four-tenths behind on the first official run. Clarke said: “I got a good surprise. I was not expecting the visitors to be so close so soon. This lit the fire behind me and I had to really drive much harder to stay ahead.”
In M6, reigning champion Neil Corbin (Starlet) had even more trouble, running second all day to the Clio Sports 1600 of Ireland’s Keith Power, finishing four-tenths behind. Corbin said: “It feels good to come second to a full spec S1600 car with a local machine. I am definitely looking forward to next weekend and having a fantastic fight.”
Clubman also produced a good fight: Jeremy Croney (Peugeot 206) was fastest in practice, Trevor Mapp (Mitsubishi Mirage RS) in the first official run, then Conor Roach (Peugeot 106) in the second. On the final run, Roach found a further 1.1 secs, but Mapp – returning to the sport after a 20-year lay-off, having previously competed against Roach’s father, Derek – dug deep to improve his previous best by 1.4 secs and win by nine-tenths.
In other classes, Avinash Chatrani (Mistubishi Lancer Evo VI) was the sole Group A runner, Geoff Noel (Evo XI) saved the best to last to win Group N, Rhett Watson (BMW M3) was dominant all day in SuperModified 12, Dane Skeete claimed a debut SM11 win in his Peugeot 306 Maxi, Rhett D’Andrade (Daihatsu Charmant) won SM9 and Sean Cox (Suzuki Swft Gti) M5. Greg Cozier (Escort MkII) won Historic, England’s Andrew Siddall (Ford Escort MkII) International Historic, while the Group B wins were shared between Geoff Ulyett (Nissan 120Y) and Ulsterman John Hardman (Nissan Micra). (RB)