Three crowd-pleasing Ford Escort MkIIs from Ireland have been added to the growing entry list on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.net, confirmed for Sol Rally Barbados 2016 slated for June 3 to 5.
While Enda McCormack will be remembered by the island’s large contingent of rear-wheel-drive fans from his visit to Sol Rally Barbados 2013, Damien Hagan and Jim McKenna are new to the event, and are proof positive of the power of ‘word of mouth’.
The Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event and the region’s biggest annual motor sport International, Sol Rally Barbados 2016 is preceded by scrutineering and the King of the Hill ‘shakedown’ event on May 28 and 29, the first chance for local enthusiasts to see overseas crews up close and in action. Hagan and McKenna were both encouraged to make the trip by fellow Co Monaghan resident Maurice Moffett, who also entertained the fans in 2013, in his sideways Toyota Starlet.
McCormack, from Longford in the Republic of Ireland, has rallied extensively on both sides of the Atlantic. A regular podium finisher in the United States Rally Championship since 2007, he finished third in the USRC all-wheel-drive class in 2010, and has also had success at home, winning Class 15 for modified four-wheel-drive cars on his first attempt at the Dunlop Irish National Tarmac Rally in 2012, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
The Escort, powered by a 292bhp, 2-litre Opel JRE racing engine, was built new for Sol Rally Barbados 2013 by Philip Case Rallysport in County Donegal, home to McCormack’s co-driver Kieran McElhinney. After a relatively quiet 2014, when he did show pace in a handful of events in his Hyundai Accent WRC, McCormack acquired a Skoda Fabia S2000. A regular top three finisher in his class in the 2015 Irish Championship, he took a big leap into the unknown by competing in Spain’s round of the World Rally Championship in October.
Having campaigned solely on tarmac in Ireland, the mixed-surface event would present McCormack with some new challenges and he rose to the occasion. He quickly found his rhythm on the gravel stages of the opening day before switching back to the more familiar demands of tarmac. He was delighted to complete what had been a technically challenging event, 16th of the 26 Non-priority Drivers who finished.
He so enjoyed the experience that he will compete on both gravel and tarmac in Ireland in 2016, having recently acquired an ex-Petter Solberg, ex-Mads Ostberg Subaru Impreza WRC S10 for the task. As he is planning a concerted campaign, the Impreza will stay in Ireland, while the Escort makes the journey to Barbados.
The MkII was built at around the same time as McCormack’s, but by Den Motorsport. Now prepared by Cormeen Motorsport and run by R & D Motorsport, it is powered by a 2.5-litre Millington Diamond engine. Another former class-winner in the Irish Championship, McKenna won the Mark II Challenge on the ALMC Stages Rally last July and finished second overall in the 2015 Midlands East Championship. His co-driver Arthur Kierans, another crew member from Co Monaghan, has claimed numerous titles, including champion co-driver in the British Rally Championship in 2014, sitting with Daniel McKenna in a Citroen DS3 R3T.
Hagan and co-driver Paul Kelly complete the Monaghan competitors, in a 2-litre 260bhp Escort, which Hagan built and prepares himself. Hagan, who started rallying as a teenager 30 years ago at the wheel of an Escort, is a former winner of the Monaghan Championship. Co-driver Kelly, another to have started his career in an Escort, 20 years ago, has won his class in the Irish Forestry Championship, finished in the top 20 on two rounds of the ERC and was the winning co-driver (with Adrian McElvaney in an Impreza) in the 2008 Sligo Stages.