Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell claimed their second Flow King of the Hill crown Sunday, but enjoyed the limelight alone this time, following 2016’s tie with Simon Jean-Joseph and Jack Boyere.
Second-placed Rob Swann claimed his best-ever King of the Hill result, ahead of fellow British regulars, Roger Duckworth and Kevin Procter, with Roger Skeete finishing fifth and highest-placed local driver, as last year.
After four straight class wins, last year in eighth place, Rhett Watson and James Hutchinson finally claimed overall two-wheel-drive honours, finishing seventh, with two-wheel-drive cars packing the rest of the top 10, brothers Roger and Barry Mayers split by Dane Skeete. Of the 87 crews who started, only one failed to record a time on at least two runs, although many have work to do on their cars ahead of Sol Rally Barbados 2017.
Panton said: “Every win is a good win and the confidence level is high for next weekend. We went out very strong for the first run, as we expected rain. I wasn’t able to better my time for runs two and three, but the last run was dry and we lowered the time by two seconds. The Friday night start doesn’t bother me too much; seven-kilometre stages are nothing new for me and it’s just another night stage and we’re ready for it.”
By the time the first run over the 4.3kms course started at 10 a.m., huge crowds had gathered inside the Vaucluse Raceway in St Thomas, with hundreds more spectators lining other popular spots on Hangmans Hill, at Dukes and Lion Castle. After rain had fallen sporadically during Saturday’s Rally Show at Simpson Motors, more was forecast for Sunday, and it would play its part in the results.
For the first time, there was no practice run, the fastest of four official runs to decide the results, then seeding for Sol Rally Barbados 2017. This would benefit a handful of drivers, including a couple of class-winners, as everyone was encouraged to be ‘on it’ from the start, with rain likely. The event was run in reverse order of seeding, from Clubman up to WRC-1.
Panton (Ford Focus WRC06) was quickest on the first run, clocking 2m 48.55s, 2.3secs faster than Swann and Darren Garrod in the Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, with Skeete and Louis Venezia another 1.3secs adrift in the Impreza S12B. Duckworth and Mark Broomfield (Impreza S6) were fourth, with Procter and newcomer Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta) fifth.
Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew (Peugeot 306 Maxi) were sixth and fastest two-wheel-drive, ahead of Watson (BMW M3), Josh Read and Mark Jordan (Toyota Starlet), Roger Hill and Graham Gittens (Toyota Corolla WRC) and Avinash Chatrani and Eric Allamby (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI).
While Panton improved by two-tenths on the second run, he could have gone faster, but encountered yellow flags after Roger Skeete had slid off on an unexpected stretch of wet road, damaging the front left of the Impreza. While Swann (by 1.8secs, to within six-tenths of Panton), Procter (by 4.3secs) and Duckworth (by 2.6secs) also all improved on the second run, Skeete’s first-run time was still good enough for him to stay in fifth place . . . and so it remained for the rest of the day.
Rain fell part-way through run three, so only drivers in the first half of the field improved; then there was then a delay while emergency teams dealt with a number of incidents, the worst of which befell Scotland’s Fraser Louden, who rolled his Evo IX near the end of the stage. While both he and co-driver were okay, the clear-up took some time.
Skeete returned once the run resumed and, although he was no faster, he was happy with the repairs to the car; catching the best of the weather, Britain’s Nigel Worswick and Rebecca Kirsch were fastest in the Ford Escort WRC. While both Panton and Duckworth improved on run four, Duckworth leap-frogging Procter for third, Swann’s earlier time still earned him a satisfying second place. “I had a really good day, despite not having any real clean runs. I drove well within myself, as there is still next week to come. I’m pretty pleased with second overall, which means not being first on the road, so it could work to my benefit,” he said.
Dane Skeete held the upper hand in the two-wheel-drive battle until the final run, when Watson cut 2.5secs off his first-run time to finish ahead; Skeete also lost out to Roger Mayers and Sean Corbin (WR Starlet), who had finished the first run stuck in second gear, which required a trip back to the workshop. Mayers was 65th after run one, missed run two, 51st after run three (one place behind Scottish crowd favourite Allan Mackay’s Ford Anglia WRC) and finished eighth and winner of SuperModified 2. His brother Barry and Ben Norris completed the top 10, third in SM2, the Ford Fiesta handling strangely, running one rear damper borrowed from the Starlet.
Watson said: “The plan today was to feel out the car as we did some development work since the Shakedown Stages. The weather played a big part, so we tried to have a go in the first run to post a good time, then we had some fun sliding in the wet. It feels great to win something like this on sheer pace and not really benefit from attrition!”
The smallest margin of victory in the classes was Roger Mayers (0.39secs) over Dane Skeete in SM2, with five other classes settled by less than 1.5secs: Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) and Kurt Thompson (Civic) were split by just 0.51secs in Modified 2, while Wayne Archer (BMW 325) beat Greg Cozier (Ford Escort RS) by 0.84secs in Historic 2.
In Group A, Chatrani beat Trinidad’s David Coelho (Evo IX) by 1.44secs, the same margin of victory by which Edward Corbin (Daihatsu Charmant) came from behind to beat Scotland’s Kenny Hall (Ford Puma S1600) in M1. Holland’s Frans Verbaas (Mini Cooper) beat England’s Andrew Costin-Hurley (Ford Puma Evo) by 1.50secs in Group B2.