Jamaican rally ace Jeffrey Panton not only won Sol Rally Barbados 2016, but over the weekend he also became the second most successful driver in the event’s 27-year history. Barbadian rally great Roger “The Sheriff” Skeete has taken the title on 13 occasions.
Panton, who was partnered once again by compatriot Mike Fennell and repeated their 2015 triumph, was the event’s first regional winner in 1998. He now moves ahead of double-winners Paul Bird, Paul Bourne, Kris Meeke and Kenny McKinstry.
Skeete and Louis Venezia finished second in the Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, with Welsh World Rally Championship contenders Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry (Ford Fiesta R5 Evo) third. Double European Rally Champions Simon Jean-Joseph and Jack Boyere of France had also been in contention, until differential failure on Sunday morning ended their challenge.
Roger Mayers (WR Starlet) finished fourth and top two-wheel-drive, pushed hard on every stage by Josh Read (Starlet), who finished one place behind. Fourth equalled the highest overall two-wheel-drive finish since a two-wheel-drive car last won in 1997, Roger’s brother Barry in 2005.
Fans lined the route in their thousands, particularly at the Bushy Park start on Friday evening, where more than four hours of non-stop action climaxed in a stunning fireworks display, and at the Vaucluse Raceway on Sunday, where the rally finished for the first time since 2007 and RallySprint action was mixed with enough donuts to stock a deli.
After the results were finally made official yesterday, Panton was joined by team-mate Neil Armstrong to accept the trophies at the prize-giving at The Boatyard beach bar, as Fennell had left the island on business. General Manager of Sol (Barbados) Ltd Ezra Prescod presented the trophies for first place, victory in WRC-1 and highest-placed non-national four-wheel-drive. Nearly 150 awards were presented yesterday, with 36 of the 41 overseas crews heading home with trophies.
Panton said: “The pace started off fast, as we expected, and we were pushing, which made us a bit messy. Simon was pushing us really hard, but when he got issues it gave us a cushion to work with. Once we recognized that we had to clean up the driving, we focused on being tidy, maintaining the lines and being consistent with it.”
Driving the Focus WRC08 in which he finished second to Panton last year, John-Joseph was fastest on Friday night’s two 2.5-kilometre stages on the Race Of Champions parallel track at Bushy Park. Both Jean-Joseph and Evans incurred 10secs jump-start penalties, however, dropping Jean-Joseph to fifth and Evans from third to ninth. Panton led from England’s Kevin Procter, driving his 2-litre Fiesta turbo for the first time, and Rob Swann (Impreza S12B).
With four stage wins in Saturday’s first two loops, Jean-Joseph climbed to second, 13secs behind Panton, and could have been closer, but for a puncture on the second Automotive Art cane field. Swann was now third, ahead of Evans and Skeete, while Procter had slipped to eighth, the top 10 completed by England’s Roger Duckworth, leading WRC-2.
After winning the afternoon’s first Spring Vale, Jean-Joseph lost 20secs with an overshoot on the last uphill cane field, on which Panton kicked off a string of four stage wins, before – just as at Flow King of the Hill the previous Sunday – they set identical stage times on the final cane field. Panton led by 36secs, with Evans 8secs behind John-Joseph, followed by Skeete and Swann.
Three loops of Drax Hall, Malvern and Padmore Village in the island’s south-east corner would complete the route. Skeete won the first stage by more than 3secs, a signal of intent for the day, Evans the initial target. Three more stage wins, plus second to Panton’s only win of the day on Malvern 2, was enough to carry him past Evans into what was now second place, after Jean-Joseph’s retirement on SS16 with differential failure, and that was how it stayed. Panton won by 45secs, with Group A winner Evans another 13secs behind Skeete. After Mayers and Read came Duckworth, winning WRC-2 from Roger Hill (ninth), with Procter seventh and Swann eighth, having lost around 2mins to a broken wheel on Sunday morning.
Evans said: “We enjoyed the whole week of the event. I wasn’t really sure where we were going to finish, it was always difficult to judge since we didn’t have the legs to keep up with the 2-litre WRC cars . . . but we enjoyed the stages nonetheless.”
Skeete added: “The single most important role for me was to defend and represent Barbados, as those who used to help are no longer competing. It showed how important it is not to jump into a rally without having time in the car and we had been out of it for almost a year. By Sunday I was much more acclimatized to attack and the times show it.”
Unlike the last two years, when the much-anticipated two-wheel-drive battle petered out almost before it got started, Sol Rally Barbados 2016 delivered performances to savour. Mayers was fourth overall after Friday, 4.94secs ahead of Flow King of the Hill winner Read, with Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi) another half-second adrift. With a perfect set of six stage wins before lunch on Saturday, Mayers extended his advantage over Read to 13secs, with Skeete another 6secs behind. As they shared stage wins equally after lunch, the gap came down to 9secs overnight, while Skeete lost time to a loose suspension bolt, ending the day one minute behind, now 10th, one place ahead of two-wheel-drive winner for the past two years, Rhett Watson (BMW M3).
Read charged hard on Sunday. A hat-trick of stage wins on the first loop – including an astonishing third overall on the first 5.4km Malvern, just four-tenths slower than Panton – cut the deficit to 5secs. Mayers claimed four of the remaining six stages, however, to emerge the winner, by 11.60secs, with Skeete cruelly robbed of a third two-wheel-drive and eighth overall by a broken steering arm on the rally’s final stage. That promoted Modified 1 winner Neil Corbin (Starlet) to 10th overall and third two-wheel-drive, after Watson’s engine had let go on the last morning stage, in turn giving Justin Campbell (M3) his first Sol RB class win.
Mayers said: “I’ve been rallying 18 years, even in the WRC class against the very best in the region, and Josh pushed me harder than anyone has ever pushed me before. On Sunday morning, he gave me a wake-up call when he took back quite a few seconds on the first stage. It was extremely difficult to strike the balance between pushing hard and keeping it altogether, but Josh was there all the way. It had to be 110 per cent to the end.”
In Group N, honours were shared on Friday evening’s two short stages, Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) leading Mark Thompson (Evo IX) by just three-tenths. With six stage wins on Saturday morning, Mallalieu increased his lead to more than 40secs, aided in part by Thompson losing time to a puncture on the first cane field. Winning four of the six afternoon stages, Thompson cut the gap by 10secs, but the battle ended on Sunday morning when Mallalieu retired with a broken diff after winning the opening stage. Thompson won the class from Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Evo IX) and Barbados-based Englishman Harold Morley (Impreza WRX STi R4).
After a broken injector resulted in four missed stages on Saturday, Barry Mayers led the Sunday Cup throughout in his new rear-wheel-drive Fiesta, pushed hard and beaten twice by Daryl Clarke, who had worked with his crew until the early hours of Sunday after rolling his Honda Civic on Saturday’s final cane field. Ireland’s Barry McKenna (Ford Escort MkII) beat local BMW driver Mark Kinch to third place by 11/100ths of a second.
Overseas visitors claimed 13 more class wins or podiums: winners were English returnees Raymond Clough (H2 Escort MkI) and Andrew Costin-Hurley (GpB2 Ford Puma Evo) and newcomers Marcel Freling (M MG ZR) and Russell Roberts (H1 Peugeot 205 GTi). Podium finishers included three newcomers – England’s Stuart Austin (GpA Impreza N10, second), Sean Kukula (H1 Escort MkI, second) and Martinique’s Pascal Calvell (M1 Citroen C2 R2 Max, third).
Repeat visitors finishing second were Ireland’s Peter Gallagher (Clubman 1 Peugeot 206 XSi) and England’s Howard Paterson (M Skoda Fabia), Kevin Procter (WRC-1 Fiesta) and Peter Rayner (GpB1 Escort MkII); Ireland’s Martin Donnelly (WRC-2 Corolla WRC), England’s Martin Stockdale (SM3 BMW 1M Coupe) and Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Islands (SM10 Escort MkII) claimed third-place finishes.
Scotland’s Kenny Hall (M1 Ford Puma) finished third, also claiming the highest non-national fwd trophies, while Ireland’s Jim McKenna claimed the highest non-national rwd trophies, finishing 12th overall. After her disappointing retirement last year, England’s Shelly Taunt (Impreza N10) came good, to win the highest-placed female driver award.