British couple Marcel Freling and Karen Robinson are seeking to revive the “fun factor” in their rallying by competing in Sol Rally Barbados 2016.
The multiple award-winners in the hotly-contested British Trial & Rally Drivers Association (BTRDA) Championship over the past 12 years are among more than 10 first-time overseas crews who have entered the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event.
Sol Rally Barbados 2016 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 3 to 5, with scrutineering and the King of the Hill ‘shakedown’ event the previous weekend, May 30 and 31.
About 70 entries have so far been posted on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.net, more than two-thirds of them from overseas.
The crew’s trip across the Atlantic is not without its challenges, however – for one thing, almost all of their rallying has been in the British forests. As Freling stated: “If I am seen to be driving more off road than on, this is because 99 per cent of my rallying has been on gravel, so the tarmac is a big change for us . . . hopefully one we can get used to very quickly.”
But they will not arrive in Barbados completely ‘blind’. Robinson travelled over in 2011 with friends Robert Cholmondeley and Dave Evans. Despite retiring their Ford Escort MkII towards the end of day one, Karen enjoyed the experience, so she and Freling decided to return this year.
“We had some friends and crews we knew from our BTRDA days doing the event, like Warren Philliskirk and Shelly Taunt, and knew if we just had a holiday we would be able to catch up with them and help out if needed.
“They both had plenty of help, but I had competed against Simon Mauger on a rally in April and saw him again at scrutineering in Barbados. Before long, we were chipping in and, by the first day of the rally, we were in full 15-hour-a-day mode.We had a fantastic three days and thoroughly enjoyed working on Simon’s stunning MkII, with Karen on the wheel changes and tyre pressures and me doing anything I could.”
After driving a Suzuki Swift Gti in the Colway Tyres Championship for three years from 1992, Freling took a break until 2002, returning with a Nissan Micra in the BTRDA 1400 Championship. Over the next six years, with Robinson as co-driver, the couple won the Class A5 title three times and finished second twice, while Robinson is the most decorated female co-driver in BTRDA forest rally history, overall Lady Co-driver Champion four times.
After an unsuccessful season in a works Ginetta G20 in 2008, a development programme for a one-make series that never came to fruition, Freling bought his current MG ZR, which will be sponsored in Barbados by All Seasons Resort, Mel Hudson Motors, Nankang Tyres, True Budget Accommodation, Visiontek and Roverbreakers.
He again contested the BTRDA 1400 Championship from 2009, enjoyed further success, finishing runner-up overall in 2012, then third in 2014, along with claiming three overall 1400 victories, often against up to 50 cars.
Over the past couple of years, however, the structure of British rallies has changed. Lesser-powered two-wheel-drive cars, which used to be allowed to run at the front of the field to enjoy a cleaner run through forest stages, are now seeded in performance order, so often find stages, some used more than once, very rutted by 4wd cars.
Freling said: “We were going to continue to do BTRDA 1400s, but the major changes to the running order and seeding made us decide to take a break from UK rallying. The fun factor and close competition we have had for so many years is no longer there, so we started to look for events that would have the enjoyment factor and decided it would be a good time to do Sol Rally Barbados.” (RB)