Following a successful shakedown at the Snetterton Stage Rally in the east of England yesterday, Stuart Austin has confirmed that he will compete in Sol Rally Barbados for the third consecutive year. With some performance upgrades to his Subaru Impreza and a new co-driver, Austin finished 29th overall and third in class.
The 29th edition of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, Sol Rally Barbados 2018 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 1-3, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill on May 26/27. Since entries opened on the official website – www.rallybarbados.net – on October 1, more than 60 have been posted, with record interest from overseas crews.
Sunday’s eight-stage event was Austin’s first with his new co-driver, teenager Sophie Louise Buckland, but the partnership gelled very quickly. It was a busy weekend for Buckland, as she had already spent Saturday co-driving for Roger Platt in his Toyota GT86 in the Cambrian Rally, the opening round of the BTRDA Championship, in Wales, followed by a six-hour journey of approaching 300 miles to reach Snetterton.
Buckland has been co-driving since the age of 14, first in road rallies, and was the Association of South Western Motor Clubs (ASWMC) Novice Road Rally Champion in 2017. And she was already familiar with Snetterton, although from a very different angle.
“I’m really pleased to be doing this event, as this is where I won my first race as a motorcycle sidecar passenger,” she said.
After an overheating problem on the day’s opening stage, Austin and Buckland steadily moved up the order, his result representing the best improvement on seeding among the nearly 90-car entry for the fifth round of the increasingly popular Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship, in association with MSVR, from 81 to finish 29th.
On his first trip to Barbados in Sol Rally Barbados 2016, Austin finished 33rd overall and second in Group A, then 35th overall and seventh in WRC-1 (modifications to the car had moved it up the groups) last year. He said: “We are proud to have finished both years; it is a tough event, but we keep learning and hope to go even better this year.”
Simon Wallis, who has already confirmed his return to Barbados this year, finished 41st and one place behind Austin in the class, with Peter Horsman the co-driver in his Impreza. Steve McNulty, who was Austin’s co-driver in Sol Rally Barbados 2017, was also in action at Snetterton, where he finished eighth overall with Ian Hucklebridge in a Ford Escort MkII, the type of car well-suited to the technical, tight and twisting stages that are characteristic of the championship.
Also in MkII Escorts were Darryl Morris and Aron Rayner, regular visitors to the island with Aron’s father Pete – they finished sixth and second in class – and Steve Finch, who missed Sol RB last year after mechanical problems on Flow King of the Hill; he finished 14th with co-driver Sam Fordham and, through the family business G & B Finch, was also one of the event’s sponsors.