There is a buzz around Barbados as rally drivers and fans prepare for this Sunday’s Flow King of the Hill, the precursor to the island’s biggest annual international rallying event next weekend – Sol Rally Barbados 2017.
And winner of the King of the Hill for the past two years, Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton, (Ford Focus WRC06), tops the entry for Sunday’s event, the final shakedown ahead next week’s eagerly awaited rally. The provisional running order for this Sunday’s King of the Hill published Friday lists 89 starters – the second-biggest field in the event’s 10-year history – with the pressure on from the get-go, as all four runs will count toward the result for the first time.
Panton shared the crown last year with former double European Rally Champion Simon Jean-Joseph (Focus WRC08) after a mid-afternoon rain shower rendered the final run irrelevant to the results. Welsh WRC driver Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta R5 Evo) finished third, ahead of the Subaru Impreza WRC S12Bs of regular British visitor Rob Swann and 13-time winner of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, local legend Roger Skeete. By going on to win his second consecutive Sol Rally Barbados in 2016, Panton also became the third driver to win both King of the Hill and Rally Barbados in the same year, after Skeete in 2011 and Britain’s Paul Bird (Focus WRC08) in 2012.
This is only the fourth time since the inaugural King of the Hill in 2008 that there have been more than 80 starters, with 91 in 2012 the record, so a spectacular day of motor sport is anticipated. Only four Sol RB17 entries are missing: British Ford Escort drivers Raymond Clough (MkI) and Pete Rayner (MkII) will not arrive in the island until next week, while newcomer Gerry Pennell’s recently rebuilt ex-works MkI Escort developed an engine problem mid-week. In addition, local drivers John Foster (Daihatsu Charmant) and Andrew Mallalieu (Subaru Impreza N10) will not be seen until Sol Rally Barbados 2017 weekend.
Sol Rally Barbados 2017 and BRC chairman Mark Hamilton said: “The quality and quantity of this year’s entry, particularly in a prolonged period of financial uncertainty worldwide, is a huge endorsement of what the Barbados Rally Club has been working toward in recent years, with the invaluable support of our partners in the private and public sectors. It also speaks to the professional running of the event, which would not be possible without the work of our hundreds of volunteers.
“I am pleased to say we have 30 new participants this year, but our repeat visitors are equally as important: between them, Martin Stockdale, Kenny Hall, Andrew Costin-Hurley and Kevin Procter will this year bring to 58 the number of times they have competed in Barbados. Outside of the pressures of competing year-round in a national or regional championship, that level of loyalty is simply unheard-of. I thank everyone who helps our Club make this event so special.”
As it has for the past three years, Flow King of the Hill will run from Hangman’s Hill through the Vaucluse Raceway (VRW) then north to Lion Castle, all within the parish of St Thomas, for a total stage length of 4.3 kilometres. Cars will run in reverse order of seeding, from Clubman 1 up to WRC-1, and the top 10 at the lunch break will be held back and re-seeded in reverse order to run at the end of the field for the final two runs.
The first run is slated for 10a.m., with two each before and after the lunch break, the fastest of which will decide competitors’ finishing positions. The results of Flow King of the Hill will be used to seed Sol Rally Barbados 2017, while those drivers who have not competed will be seeded behind the last car in their class, unless safety considerations dictate otherwise.
From the first King of the Hill at Turner’s Hall in 2008, local drivers Paul Bourne (2008 & 2010) and Skeete (2009 & 2011) shared the first four victories, as it moved first to Stewart’s Hill, then Sailor Gully and Hangman’s Hill. England’s Paul Bird won back at Hangman’s Hill in 2012, and again in 2014, after Neil Armstrong won in 2013, when the venue was Luke Hill in St Lucy. Skeete became the first driver to claim three wins in 2015, while a rain-affected final run last year was partly to blame for Panton and Simon Jean-Joseph ending the day in an unprecedented tie for victory.
Highest-placed two-wheel-drive car for the first three years was the legendary Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift, with Sean Gill sixth in his last season in the car (2008), then Ian Warren ninth and fifth, which remains the highest overall King of the Hill finish for two-wheel-drives. Armstrong was top two-wheel-drive in 2011 & 2012, ninth and eighth, the mantle then assumed by Roger Mayers, sixth and eighth respectively in 2013 & 2014. Josh Read then joined the roll of honour, seventh and sixth in 2015 & 2016, last year leading home Mayers, Dane Skeete, Rhett Watson and Andrew Jones, as two-wheel-drive cars packed the lower half of the top 10. (RB)