Group A is set to attract a record entry for Sol Rally Barbados 2017, as four more international crews confirmed Friday bring the current total to eight, already the highest for more than a decade.
With at least two more in the pipeline, the starting list for the four-wheel-drive classification won last year by M-Sport works driver Elfyn Evans could reach double figures for the first time in the history of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) blue riband event.
As the BRC marks its 60th anniversary, Sol Rally Barbados 2017 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 2 to 4, and Flow King of the Hill, on which the seeding for the main event is based, the previous Sunday, May 28. Since entries opened on October 1 on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.net, nearly 80 have been posted, two-thirds from overseas.
While local GpA champion Avinash Chatrani (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) rarely has competition during the annual BRC Championship, he will relish the task facing him at Sol Rally Barbados 2017, as he seeks to repeat his class wins of Rally Barbados 2012 and 2013 and defend local honour. Already confirmed are Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Evo VIII) and Ryan Pinheiro (Evo V), along with English couple Jon and Allison Trenholme (Subaru Impreza).
As two more Evos and Imprezas are added to the on-line entry list Friday, along with drivers from Ireland and Wales, the GpA battle takes on an even more international air, and with the Scots yet to play their hand. The closest battles in recent years have been between the Evos of Welshman Rupert Lomax and Irish farmer Joe McQuillan, separated by just 14 hundredths of a second the last time they went head-to-head in Sol Rally Barbados 2015 after a gruelling weekend.
Also confirmed are the Imprezas of England’s Stuart Austin and Dick Mauger, who switches to four-wheel-drive in Barbados for the first time.
Austin made his Caribbean debut last year, 33rd overall and second in GpA, as he told the United Kingdom media: “We finished, that’s the main thing, behind some Welsh chap called Evans in a Ford Fiesta R5, only about £580,000 more expensive than my Impreza, and with full team backing and support. All in all, I’m proud of my car and the team.” He returns in the Impreza for Sol Rally Barbados 2017 with a new co-driver, Steve McNulty, who has done the event in the past with Mauger.
Austin took the car for a shakedown two weeks ago at the MSVR facility just outside Bedford in the English Midlands, reporting: “The track day was very good, the car and the new TEG Sport sequential gearbox behaved like a dream, and was soon eating up the on-track ‘competition’, even though we weren’t racing. I am looking forward to working with Steve to see how we can build on what was achieved last year.”
While McNulty switches ‘hot seats’ from Mauger to Austin, his replacement, Jerseyman Gino Gouviea, is no stranger to rallying, having competed both as driver and co-driver, including in the Jersey Rally with Mauger for the past two years. Although now in his early 70s, Mauger still rises before dawn to work his farming business and maintains a rallying hobby started more than 50 years ago. While this year will be his first in four-wheel drive in Barbados – on his first visit, he won Modified 6 in a Nissan Micra – he has successfully campaigned a Ford Focus WRC in the United Kingdom.
He bought the Impreza entered for Sol Rally Barbados 2017 as a direct result of networking on his first visit to Barbados, when he met Kiwi rallying legend Mike Marshall. On a subsequent holiday to New Zealand, he met Alex Kelsey, who designed the Impreza, using many purpose-built parts, in which he was a front-runner in the New Zealand Rally Championship. The car was then shipped to the United Kingdom.
County Antrim’s McQuillan, aka ‘The Big Man’, will again have Scotland’s Sean Donnelly as co-driver in the Massarene Farms Evo IX, which has been developed steadily from the Group N car he bought in 2009. This is the sixth consecutive visit for the five-time Mid Antrim Champion and the one on which he wants to beat Lomax on Sol Rally Barbados and not just at King of the Hill, as he did in 2015.