Last weekend’s launch of a spectacular new rear-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta to be campaigned in the SuperModified 2 category in Sol Rally Barbados 2016 from June 3 to 5 by local ace Barry Mayers, means all bets are off on the outcome of the much-anticipated two-wheel-drive battle in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International.
Barry’s fourth place in Rally Barbados 2005 in a Toyota Starlet is the best overall two-wheel-drive finish since the event was last won by a two-wheel-drive car, Roger Skeete’s Peugeot 306 S16, in 1997, and came in the same year brother Roger was the overall winner in a Ford Focus. The landscape has changed significantly, however, so the new Fiesta will face strong opposition, including Roger in the family M & M Racing Team’s WR Starlet.
Built in Sweden and powered by a normally-aspirated 2.2-litre Cosworth YB engine, the Fiesta arrived in the island on the Geest Line freighter which delivered the European entries just two weeks ago; the engine followed later, after an issue arose on its final dyno test before installation. Mayers described the fact that it was completed and driving as “a miracle.
“There was an enormous amount to do, once we got the car, and I must thank Roger, Russell Vincent, Russell Brancker, co-driver Ben Norris, also my parents and wife for all their support,” he said.
Last year, Rhett Watson’s BMW M3 was Sol Rally Barbados’ highest-placed two-wheel-drive car for the second consecutive year, seventh overall, after key players were lost early. Top seed Josh Read (Starlet) was OTL by the end of Saturday; Neil Armstrong (Starlet) lasted only three stages before his clutch cylinder failed; Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi), an impressive sixth overall overnight Friday, was out with a dropped valve after SS11; Roger Mayers disappeared at the same time with suspension damage.
This season, Read has finished top two-wheel-drive (outright winner twice) in all the earlier events, including the Sunoco Shakedown Stages after resourceful work by his service crew repaired collapsing rear suspension. Roger Mayers had missed the season’s opening rally for the past two years, so was glad to be on the pace, finishing third, ahead of Skeete.
Watson has had a bad start to the year. After not missing a beat for five years, the M3 has twice failed on the way home from scrutineering the night before an event, causing him to miss one, then use the team’s spare chassis to win his class in the Shakedown. Adding to the unpredictability, Armstrong will compete in a rear-wheel-drive car for the first time, a state-of-the-art MkII Escort being flown in a few days before Flow King of the Hill.
The unknown quantity is the overseas invasion, many in MkII Escorts. England’s Pete Rayner returns, while the Irish team includes Damien Hagan, Enda McCormack, Barry McKenna and Jim McKenna, with Gary Thomas from Wales also familiar with the event. Back for his 16th consecutive visit, Martin Stockdale (BMW 1M Coupe), twice the highest-placed overseas two-wheel-drive –– 18th in 2011 & 2012 –– will surely be in the mix.