Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell won yesterday’s Automotive Art Shakedown Stages in their Ford Focus WRC06, despite a 10-second penalty for a late restart after lunch.
The opening round of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) Driver’s and Class Championships, the 10-stage, 37-kilometre event was the final test before Flow King of the Hill and Sol Rally Barbados, and close competition throughout the field augurs well for a repeat.
Last year’s winner, Britain’s Rob Swann, finished second in a Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, a little under five seconds adrift, with Roger Skeete and Louis Venezia (WTI Impreza WRC S12B) third. Fourth, and top two-wheel-drive, were Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew in their (Peugeot 306 Maxi).
The pace was hot from the start, Panton winning the first four stages, ahead of Swann and Skeete, opening a gap of 5.73secs to Swann, who won the final run before lunch, but only by a narrow margin. Skeete was another four seconds back at lunch, although all that changed with Panton’s penalty, Swann now in the lead. He extended his advantage with a second stage win, but Panton fought back, cutting it to just three-hundredths ahead of the final stage. A scary moment by the Malvern wall on a now-damp road caused Swann to back off a little, not wanting to damage the car, but Panton pushed hard to the finish.
Afterwards, Panton said: “The main competition for Rally Barbados has been here, so we now know what they are capable of. A clutch change brought problems – the spare didn’t work, so we had to change it out again, making us late. We were happy to overcome the deficit on the stages and it has been a major confidence boost.”
Despite losing out, Swann was also happy, pleased to be reunited with his Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod: “We started at a sensible pace, as we know Sol Rally Barbados is still to come; there is not a mark on the car, which is how I wanted it. I was surprised to be on the pace after some time out of the car, and two fastest times is a big positive to carry into Sol Rally Barbados, given that the main competition also did the event.”
Skeete’s fourth place reflected his overall position last year, but he finished third in two-wheel-drive that day. Third to Rhett Watson (BMW M3) and Barry Mayers (Ford Fiesta) on the day’s first stage, Skeete then won the next four, ahead of Watson and Mayers, to build up a 3.38secs advantage by lunch, despite a recurring issue with the steering rack, along with low oil pressure readings.
He kept stock of the situation during the afternoon, winning three of the five stages to prevail by 6.72secs; the others were won by Watson, who finished fifth. Skeete said: “I came out with the intention being to finish the event and was happy to do so. Having not driven the car since last year there was some rust to shake off in SS1, but it was nice to see where we are with Rhett and Barry, so I’m looking forward to Sol Rally Barbados.”
Mayers was seventh overall, behind Roger Hill’s Toyota Corolla WRC, after a difficult day. “We made some further suspension changes to the car coming out of Stewart Hill and I think we took a few steps backward. We struggled with rear traction all day, but we were battling with Rhett throughout. We had a spin in SS7, then lost brakes after that, so just nursed it home,” Mayers said.
Watson’s brother Logan (BMW M3) made an emotional return to the sport after a long period of recuperation to make it a class one-two for Watson Racing; on the last stage, he edged out Andrew Jones (Ford Escort MkII), who marked his move up from SM2 with third in class, ninth overall.
Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) finished 10th overall, winning Group A, after Avinash Chatrani (Evo VI) retired with clutch problems. As predicted, there was a close fight for Group N honours between Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10), whose third straight win last year was earned by a margin of less than a quarter of a second from Mark Thompson (Evo IX). It was nip and tuck throughout, the gap of 2.99secs at lunch the largest of the day, Thompson having won four of the morning’s five stages. Mallalieu turned the tables in the afternoon, a hat-trick of stage wins reducing Thompson’s advantage to just eight-hundredths with two stages to go, but Thompson won by 1.47secs, the pair finishing 11th and 12th overall.
In the classes, Neil Corbin (Toyota Starlet) celebrated his step up to SM1 with a class win and 13th overall, while reigning champion driver Daryl Clarke put his new Honda Civic to good use, with victory in Modified 2, 15th overall, ahead of Kurt Thompson, who had only finished preparing his Civic at midnight on Saturday, and Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Islands, having his second outing in his Citroen DS 3 R3 MAX.
Under the BRC’s two-thirds rule, Edward Corbin (Daihatsu Charmant) won M1, despite missing two early stages, while the other class-winners were Wayne Archer (Hist BMW M3), Derek Edwards (Clubman 2 BMW 318ti Compact) and Trevor Mapp (C1 Mitsubishi Colt Mivec RS).