Barbadian rally drivers will have to be in top form for the imminent Sol Rally Barbados 2015 if bragging rights are to remain at home.
Yesterday at the Barbados Rally Club’s Shakedown Stages, ace Jamaican driver Jeffrey Panton and co-driver Mike Fennell Jr. threw down the gauntlet to local drivers in their Ford Focus WRC06 while finishing more than 18 seconds up on Trinidad and Tobago’s Jamaican-born John “Penti” Powell in second place and Roger “The Sherifff” Skeete who finished in third position.
But Barbados still had much to shout about as Barry Mayers won the tussle for two-wheel drive honors while finishing fifth overall in his Starlet. Barry, filling in for his brother Roger who was a tad under the weather, beat out compatriots Rhett Watson and Neil Armstrong for two-wheel drive honours.
Panton won the first run from Four Hills to Orange Hill, with Mayers an impressive second, ahead of Skeete behind the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC S12 and who had lost around seven seconds to the leader when a tyre burst in a pothole. The lone WRC-2 runner Roger Hill driving a Toyota Corolla WRC was fourth, ahead of Powell who drove a Focus WRC08.
The Jamaicans won all five morning stages –– Lamberts to Pickerings was the other venue –– to lead Powell by nearly 13 seconds at lunch, with Skeete down in fifth, after also collecting a 25 seconds early arrival penalty. Skeete won four of the afternoon’s five reversed stages. Panton was fastest on SS10 –– just four-tenths covered his Focus, Powell and Skeete on the final stage. It spelt a good omen for the approaching LIME King of the Hill and Sol Rally Barbados 2015.
Panton later explained that his plan was to get the seat time in.
“We weren’t looking for a win, but it was good to get it as we head towards Sol Rally Barbados. Like most others, we ran on old tyres, which gave some really hairy moments, but we drove accordingly,” he said.
From Skeete’s perspective, the event was a vital chance to check out persistent launch issues.
“After the rebuild, the car refused to launch or even go into launch sequence. We pulled the box on Saturday and discovered a leak from the centre differential, which when rectified cured the launch issues instantly. Everything else is working perfectly,” Skeete said.
Mayers was the fastest two-wheel drive on all but one of the day’s stages, winning the category by 26 seconds. Watson in a BMW M3 was the other stage winner, as he and Armstrong behind the wheel of a Starlet swapped times back and forth.
“We figured we could be fast out of the box, but spoiled it with an overshoot at The Rock on SS1. However, we recovered and had a nice battle during the day with Neil,” Watson said.
Armstrong said he felt good in the car and was shaking off the rust.
Mayers, who won won SuperModified 10, quipped that he was a substitute driver and added that any times he achieved his brother Roger could have gone two seconds faster. Josh Read also driving a Starlet retired on SS1 with clutch problems and Cliff Roett also in a Starlet did likewise two stages later.
Watson was the only driver in SM12 to complete the distance. Justin Campbell in a M3 did enough to score class points under the two-thirds rule, but Stan Hartling (suspension damage) and David St Hill (radiator) were out early.
The top ten was completed by class-winners Andrew Jones (Ford Escort MkII), Andrew Mallalieu (Group N Subaru Impreza N10) and Daryl Clarke (Modified 7 Honda Civic). Jones led SM11 all day, although Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi) set a string of top 10 times after losing more than one minute on SS1; the car eventually heading home on a wrecker after an ‘off’ mid-afternoon.
In Group N, Jamaica’s Kyle Gregg finished second in his first outing on tarmac in his Evo IX, finishing just 10 seconds ahead of David Coelho, using his ex-Geoff Noel Evo IX for the first time, another good omen for next month’s events.
Among the day’s other casualties –– 11 of 33 starters failed to finish –– were Jamal Brathwaite (M7 Honda Civic Type-R), who struggled all day with gearbox problems, and Neil Corbin (M6 Starlet), an impressive 10th at lunchtime. When a wiring issue was then discovered that could not be resolved, he retired, allowing Paul Inniss (Civic) to claim his first class win. Corbin spoke for everyone who had issues yesterday when he said: “It’s better to happen at Shakedown than Rally Barbados. I had a great morning though!”
BRC Shakedown Stages
1st Jeffrey Panton – JAM/Michael Fennell Jnr – JAM (Ford Focus WRC06), 22m 12.22s
2nd John Powell – TRI/Jason Costello – TRI (Ford Focus WRC08), + 18.37s
3rd Roger Skeete/Louis Venezia (Subaru Impreza WRC S12), + 33.18s
4th Roger Hill/Graham Gittens (Toyota Corolla WRC), + 47.67s
5th Barry Mayers/Sean Corbin (WR Starlet), + 52.21s
6th Rhett Watson/James Hutchinson (BMW M3), + 1m 18.21s
7th Neil Armstrong/Barry Ward (Toyota Starlet), + 1m 21.29s
8th Andrew Jones/Lindsey Pilkington – ENG (Ford Escort MkII), + 2m 02.53s
9th Andrew Mallalieu/Geoff Goddard (Subaru Impreza N10), + 2m 15.01s
10th Daryl Clarke/Russell Brancker (Honda Civic), + 2m 16.03s