Veteran Jamaican Jeffrey Panton braved torrential rain and challenging conditions to become the first overseas competitor to win the Barbados Rally Club’s champion driver’s title, when he prevailed in the action packed BRC Winter Rally last weekend.
Only half the field managed to cross the finish as heavy rainstorms in the north of the island where the event was centered, made life difficult for both competitors and organisers.
Panton, partnered by co-driver Michael Fennell Jnr behind the wheel of his Ford Focus WRC06, completed the seven-round season with a perfect record of class wins, adding the WRC and Four-Wheel Drive Championships to his tally.
“That was one of the toughest rallies I have ever been involved in as an organiser,” rally director Neil Barnard said.
“The rain Saturday afternoon could best be described as ‘biblical’ and caught competitors on special stage four when it was live. I can’t say enough about the marshals, the RRT crews and all the support personnel for their performance and commitment in the most difficult conditions.
“I also must commend the competitors for their endurance and perseverance in what really was a tough event.”
Rob Swann and Darren Garrod of England, in their Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, finished second while Barry Mayers and Ben Norris, driving a Ford Fiesta, were third.
Mayers and Norris also clinched the SuperModified 2 and Two-Wheel Drive Championship titles.
Only a non-finish could have cost Panton the champion driver title and while the WRC class was under-subscribed at the weekend, a total of 124 points proved enough.
SM3 champion Andrew Jones finished second overall on 119, with Stuart Garcia in his BMW 318ti Compact, crowning an impressive debut season in Clubman 2 with the class title and third overall with 118.
Pre-weekend, the outcome of the final round of the BRC’s 2017 Driver’s and Class Championships was hard to call, with Swann and Paul Bird seeded behind Panton.
Then, in Friday night’s two runs of the Vaucluse Raceway RallySprint track, a first-run spin for Swann and a second-run puncture for Bird, left it finely poised ahead of Saturday’s 12 stages. Bird was 2.5 seconds up on Panton, while Swann was left with work to do, sixth overall and more than 20 seconds behind.
Bird increased his lead on the first run through the five-kilometre Dark Hole to Spring Vale stage, but the skies opened as the field was passing through SS4 – Hangmans Hill to Lion Castle – after which rain fell relentlessly.
Bird’s clutch failed mid-way through the stage, which ended his rally and handed the lead to Panton. He would not lose it, winning all but one of the remaining stages with Swann quickest on SS4.
The heavy rainfall made the already notorious Dark Hole stage even more tricky than usual and two cars from the Barbados Historic Rally, which was running ahead of the main field, aquaplaned off into the same bridge wall.
While Wayne Archer’s BMW 325 suffered only steering damage, English visitor Graham Samuel’s Ford Escort MkII became jammed between the wall and a power pole. The driver was slightly injured and the stage halted while emergency services dealt with the incident.
There were several other early casualties. Andrew Mallalieu, in his Subaru Impreza N10, led Group N after three stages but smacked the tunnel wall at VRW on SS4, one stage before his sparring partner Mark Thompson, in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, also retired.
SS5 also claimed Rhett Watson in his BMW M3, who had been swapping top 2WD times with Mayers.