The biggest rally event on Barbados’ motor sports calendar gets going Friday with the ceremonial start at Sol in Warrens, St Michael. Then the Sol Rally Barbados action revs off in earnest on the weekend with hundreds of Barbadians expected to be at every possible vantage point for the rally extravaganza.
Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton and Michael Fennell Jr are top seeds for the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event for the first time when they set off Friday, leading an international field of 88 cars, with a record 17 countries represented in Sol Rally Barbados.
Although they jointly won Flow King of the Hill last year, sharing the title with double European Champions Simon Jean-Joseph and Jack Boyere (Focus WRC08), M-Sport World Rally Championship contender Elfyn Evans was seeded first in his Ford Fiesta R5 Evo, by virtue of his FIA Priority status, while Panton started at two in recognition of his Sol Rally Barbados 2015 victory over Jean-Joseph. This year’s final running order was published by the BRC after last night’s briefing meeting at the Accra Beach Hotel & Spa in Rockley.
British crews Rob Swann/Darren Garrod (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B), Roger Duckworth/Alun Cook (Intrinsys Impreza S6) and Kevin Procter/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta) are seeded from two to four, with 13-time winner Roger Skeete and Louis Venezia (Impreza S12B) the leading local crew, ahead of fellow Barbadians Roger Hill and Graham Gittens (Toyota Corolla WRC).
Rhett Watson and James Hutchinson are top two-wheel-drive seeds for the first time, starting at seven in the BMW M3. Fellow 2wd runners Roger Mayers/Sean Corbin (WR Starlet), Dane Skeete/Tyler Mayhew (Peugeot 306 Maxi) and Barry Mayers/Ben Norris (Ford Fiesta) complete the top 10.
In addition to the battle for overall and two-wheel-drive supremacy, there are 16 separate classes to be contested, in all but two of which island competitors will enjoy the challenge of pitting their skills against regional or international entries in what promises to be the toughest event of recent years. With a total special stage distance of 133.20 kilometres, it is the longest event since 2004 and, with an average stage distance of more than 6kms for the first time in the event’s history, will push drivers to their limits.
After crews leave the ceremonial start, they will head straight for two 7kms stages in the north of the island; by the time they get to bed, they will have tackled more than 10 per cent of the total stage distance, so will need to be on their toes from the start. The remaining 20 stages are a mix of familiar territory and new ground, culminating in a tricky, technical 2kms stage at Bushy Park Barbados, the final timed stage. Once completed, competitors will head for the facility’s main spectator area on ‘The Hill’ where fans and service crew will already have gathered for a well-deserved after-party.
Sol Rally Barbados 2017 facts:
• 88 crews on the final running order
• 42 overseas entries
• Competitors from a record 17 countries (including host nation Barbados)
• 79 overseas drivers and co-drivers, 29 new to the event
• A record 18 female competitors, all co-drivers, from a record eight countries
• Cars from 15 manufacturers, BMW best-represented for the first time with 17, followed by Ford (16), Mitsubishi (13), then Subaru and Toyota (8)
• 23 cars competing in Sol Rally Barbados for the first time
Top 20 seedings for Sol Rally Barbados 2017:
1 Jeffrey Panton – JAM/Michael Fennell Jnr – JAM (Ford Focus WRC06)
2 Rob Swann – ENG/Darren Garrod – WAL (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B)
3 Roger Duckworth – ENG/Alun Cook – WAL (WRC-2 Intrinsys Subaru Impreza WRC S6)
4 Kevin Procter – ENG/Andrew Roughead – ENG (Ford Fiesta)
5 Roger Skeete/Louis Venezia (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B)
6 Roger Hill/Graham Gittens (Toyota Corolla WRC)
7 Rhett Watson/James Hutchinson (BMW M3)
8 Roger Mayers/Sean Corbin (WR Starlet)
9 Dane Skeete/Tyler Mayhew (Peugeot 306 Maxi)
10 Barry Mayers/Ben Norris (Ford Fiesta)
11 Josh Read/Mark Jordan (Toyota Starlet)
12 Avinash Chatrani/Eric Allamby (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI)
14 Andrew Jones/Lindsey Pilkington – ENG (Ford Escort MkII)
15 David Coelho – TRI/James Harris – ENG (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX)
16 Mark Thompson/Kurt Seabra – GUY (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX)
17 Nigel Worswick – ENG/Rebecca Kirsch – ENG (Ford Escort WRC)
18 Joe McQuillan – NIR/Sean Donnelly – SCO (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX)
19 Barry Groundwater – SCO/Ashleigh Will – SCO (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X)
20 Graham Coffey – ENG/Patrick Walsh – WAL (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B)