It was one of the most exciting King of the Hill events ever.
And when the dust cleared and the revs were silent yesterday, French double European Rally Champion Simon Jean-Joseph and Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton were joint winners of the action-packed Flow-sponsored spectacular.
World Rally Championship WRC 2 points leader driver Elfyn Evans finished third, ahead of Rob Swann, with the 2015 winner, Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete, the highest-placed Barbadian driver in fifth.
Josh Read repeated last year’s top two-wheel-drive award, one place higher overall – sixth – with the rest of the top 10 also in two-wheel-drive cars, Roger Mayers, Rhett Watson, Dane Skeete and Andrew Jones.
By the time the 10 a.m. practice run started, huge crowds had gathered inside the Vaucluse Raceway (VRW), with hundreds more spectators lining other popular spots on Hangman’s Hill, Dukes and Lion Castle. With a less complex sequence of corners within VRW than last year, the stage distance was 4.3 kilometres.
Jean-Joseph topped the practice run in the Ford Focus WRC08, clocking 2m 47.87s. Evans (Ford Fiesta R5 Evo) was second on 2:52.25, with Mayers third and top two-wheel-drive in the WR Starlet, on 2:57.77. Panton (Focus WRC06) was fourth on 2:59.87, with Roger Hill fifth (Toyota Corolla WRC) on 3:01.91s.
Jean-Joseph improved to 2:46.33 on the first official run, as Panton (2:47.40) and Swann, on 2:47.88 in the Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, both moved ahead of Evans (2:49.61). Mayers was still top two-wheel-drive (2:53.91), two seconds ahead of Read (Toyota Starlet).
On the second official run, Panton astonishingly equalled Jean-Joseph’s time to the 100th, while the Frenchman lost around ten seconds with a spin in front of the VRW crowd, setting up a fantastic climax. Evans found another two seconds (2:47.49) to move into third, ahead of Swann, while Skeete (Impreza WRC S12B) finally set a representative time (2:49.23), after suffering technical issues on every run.
Weather played its part, however, as rainfall turned the last of the three official runs into nothing more than a very useful test session on the island’s notoriously slippery roads, particularly for those overseas crews new to the event, including Evans.
“We tried to attack from the outset but didn’t take any risks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the pace to keep up with the full old works cars but hopefully during the weekend it rains, which levels the field a bit more and we can win some stages,” Evans said.
Jean-Joseph agreed. “With the wet and dry, it was a good warm-up and the battle is ready for next weekend. This year I definitely want to win the rally, but I know it won’t be just me in that position, as Jeffrey will too.”
And Panton expressed his readiness. “Next week will be maximum attack from the start, because any time lost here is difficult to make back. It was a tough day as we broke an axle and some dampers in the first two runs, so the only clean run we had we were able to equal Simon.”
In the two-wheel-drive battle, Read had found further time of the second official run (2:52.53), while Mayers had gone backwards (2:53.91), after an unsuccessful change of tyres, leaving Read the winner. Behind them, just a couple of seconds covered Watson (BMW M3), Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi) and Jones (Ford Escort MkII).
Read said: “I came here with a speed event mentality and looked to increase as the day went on. I’m looking forward to the rally. Speed has definitely gone up and you have to find the balance between being on the limit and making a mistake.”
Winner of two-wheel-drive in Sol Rally Barbados for the past two years, Watson added: “A few things have changed with the car, weight, different brake pads and tyres but the extra HP is missing especially at the top end. It has been a long year but the package has come together well. For the rally now, it will be a wash down and a bolt check.”
There were some close finishes in the classes, too. The smallest margin was just 1/100th in Group B1, where Chris Ullyett (BMW M3) beat England’s Peter Rayner (Escort MkII). In Group N, Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) led after the first run, but Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) turned the tables on run two to win by 1.42s, finishing 12th overall, while Allan Kinch (BMW 318ti) beat Paul Inniss (Honda Civic) by just 1.66s in Clubman 2.
Hill’s victory margin in WRC-2 over England’s Nigel Worswick (Ford Escort WRC) was 2.12s, while Greg Cozier (Escort MkII) came from behind after the first run to beat England’s Raymond Clough (Escort MkI) by 2.96s in Historic 2.
In the Honda Civic battle in Clubman 1, Pierre Clarke beat Jermin Pope by 3.17s, while other class victories were enjoyed in more dominant style. Daryl Clarke (Civic) in Modified 2 by 5.79s, Neil Corbin (Starlet) in M1 by 7.60s, England’s Marcel Freling (MG ZF) in Modified by 10.92s and Jeremy Gonsalves (Opel Corsa) in SuperModified 1 by 11.60s.
Of the 80 drivers listed on the running order, there were five that were either non-starters or failed to complete an official run. The most notable casualties in that list were Barry Mayers (Ford Fiesta, axle) and Jeremy Sisnett (Fiesta, gearbox), who failed to complete the practice run. Others who endured mechanical issues included Justin Campbell (BMW M3, suspension, then drivetrain), Fabian Clarke (Suzuki Ignis Sport, gearbox), Stan Hartling from Turks & Caicos (M3, driveshaft) and New Zealand’s Mike Marshall (Peugeot 106 S16, persistent brake problems).