Regional champions Jeffrey Panton, who has won his home event Rally Jamaica a record eight times, John Powell, the four-time winner of Rally Trinidad, and Kyle Gregg, who won Rally Jamaica last year, have confirmed their entries for Sol Rally Barbados 2015, boosting the four-wheel-drive entry to 21, with others still in the pipeline.
The Barbados Rally Club (BRC) is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its premier event this year with Sol Rally Barbados 2015 scheduled for May 29 to 31, with scrutineering and LIME’s King of the Hill on the previous weekend of May 23 and 24. With five weeks to go before closing date, more than 100 entries have been received on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.net.
Twice the Caribbean Rally Champion (1996 & 1998), Panton is among the region’s most accomplished drivers and was the first winner in Barbados from the wider Caribbean, in 1998, having twice finished second (1994 & 1996), all at the wheel of a Toyota Celica GT4. He is unique in having won regional rally’s “Big Three”, on tarmac in Barbados, and on the loose in Trinidad (2011 & 2013) and Jamaica (eight times from 1994 to 2013), then set a new record with podium finishes in all three for two straight seasons (2012 & ‘2013).
This year, Panton has added sponsorship from Sandals Barbados to last year’s Rubis and Total livery on his ex-Marcus Gronholm Ford Focus WRC06, which he will share with regular co-driver, fellow Jamaican Mike Fennell Jnr. They finished sixth last year, after a spirited fight back including 10 stage wins, following an “off” on the Friday night at Bushy Park, which dropped them to 76th position.
Former Trinidad & Tobago champion John Powell joined the Ford camp last year, returning to action with an ex-works Focus WRC08, in which Francois Duval, Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen achieved WRC podiums. With last-minute replacement co-driver, Jamaican Hugh Hutchinson, “Penti” Powell finished third, his best result for nine years. Nick Telfer will sit with him in this year’s rally.
He had missed Sol Rally Barbados 2013 and retired on Saturday the previous year, after damaging his Subaru Impreza WRC S14. He has twice finished second in Barbados (2005 & 2007 in Toyota Corolla WRCs) and has a further five top 10 finishes to his credit since 1997. He also won on the loose in Trinidad in 2005-2006 (Corolla WRC), 2010 (Impreza WRC S12) and 2012 (Impreza WRC S14), and in Jamaica in 2011 (Impreza WRC S14).
Hutchinson will also be back for Sol Rally Barbados 2015, as co-driver for Kyle Gregg, with whom he won Rally Jamaica last year in the B D Gregg/Sunitrac Tires Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, the ex-Powell NACAM Championship car. With three further podium finishes to his name in Barbados –– victory in 2006, plus two third places (2005 & 2008) with Kyle’s father Gary –– “Hutch” is the perfect co-driver for the younger Gregg’s Sol Rally Barbados debut.
It is not Gregg’s first drive in Barbados, as he raced in last July’s Digicel Williams International at Bushy Park. He won two of the three Caribbean Motor Racing Championship Group 2 races, finishing second in the opening race, fighting from near the back of a record 16-car grid, having failed to set a qualifying time. The only driver he failed to pass was fellow Honda Civic racer Mark Thompson, whom he will again compete in identical machinery this year, both driving Group N Evo IXs.
Gregg’s circuit racing cv is impressive, overall champion driver at the Dover Raceway in 2011 & 2014, plus four consecutive years as MP2 champion and two (2011 & 2012) as TS2 Champion in the Civic. He launches his 2015 racing campaign over Easter weekend.
Panton, Powell and Gregg have also confirmed their intentions of competing in the Valvoline Rally on April 19; the two Focus WRCs are already in Barbados, with Gregg currently sourcing tarmac suspension for the Evo.