Britain’s Rob Swann was first in line when entries for Sol Rally Barbados 2014, the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international, opened on the official web site.
Returning for his seventh visit, Swann steps back up to WRC-1 with his recently-acquired ex-works Subaru Impreza WRC S11, backed by Waves Hotel and Spa Barbados and Cygnet Plant Ltd.
At Sol Rally Barbados 2014, the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) will celebrate the 25th running of its blue riband event. Subject to final ratification by the island’s governing body, the Barbados Motoring Federation, it will run on May 31 and June 1, with scrutineering and Scotiabank King of the Hill the previous weekend, May 24 and 25
Swann’s new car was driven by Petter Solberg in three events towards the end of 2005 on his way to finishing runner-up in the World Rally Championship; third place in this car on the Tour de Corse was one of his eight podium finishes that season, including three victories. Since then, the car has been campaigned in Ireland, mostly by Kevin Barrett, although Derek McGarrity drove it a handful of times and Kenny McKinstry once.
Having already tackled a popular European tarmac event, the Tour of Flanders last month, Swann is delighted: “I should have done it years ago. The car is amazing and we had a brilliant time – I started slowly, as my first drive in it was the opening stage, which was dark and damp! We were setting top four times by the next morning, then broke a rear shaft, just one of those things! Having lost 10 minutes or so sorting that out, we just carried on to get some seat time in the car. Sensible driving was producing top three times, so I’m very pleased and think a podium might have been on.” Swann had slipped almost to the tail end of the field, but finished a fighting 20th.
In early November, he tackles the Tempest Rally, before trying to become the first driver in its 30-year history to claim a hat-trick of wins on the premier rally three weeks later, both gravel events. His co-driver will be Aled Edwards, whose name is familiar in Barbados, having sat with Harold Morley and Andrew Mallalieu in 2011 and 2012.
Swann’s best result in Barbados came at the wheel of a rented Impreza WRC S12, fifth in Sol Rally Barbados 2011, co-driven by Darren Garrod. He won Group N in 2010 in an Impreza N14, a result repeated in Rally Jamaica six months later, making him the first driver to do the double in the same year, a remarkable achievement for an overseas visitor. For the last two years, he returned with that same car rebuilt to the United Kingdom’s B13 spec and ran last year in the island’s new WRC-2 category.
Swann was among a number of regular international competitors featured in a half-hour programme produced by Merville Lynch Productions and aired on CBC in an early evening prime time slot last month. In a series of interviews, the programme sought to discover what brings repeat visitors back so frequently.
Swann said: “I’m trying to encourage as many people as I can in England, if you only do one rally a year, then put this on the ‘one-to-do’ list. I’ve done a lot of rallies all over the world, and championships, and this rally’s just so competitive. I know the stages are short, but that adds that extra spice to it – you have to be 110 per cent from the first stage. The first time we came here it was just to dip our toe in the water, and it was just great. Now, it’s the first one that goes on our calendar every year.” (RB)