Sol Rally Barbados is on target for a record turnout of female competitors when the 29th edition of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) blue riband event is staged later this year.
Former British ladies rally champion Shelly Taunt and co-driver Julie Murphy will lead the international contingent, while Cheryl Spencer’s return for a 10th wedding anniversary celebration with co-driving husband Barry means there will be two female drivers on the entry list for only the second time in the event’s history.
Also confirmed today are Jon and Alison Trenholme, who made their debut in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International last year. Taunt, Murphy, Spencer and ‘Mrs T’ bring to 13 the number of female competitors with confirmed entries, although not all have been made public, with up to 10 regulars not yet listed, so last year’s record of 18 is certainly under threat.
Sol Rally Barbados 2018 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 1-3, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill the previous weekend, May 26/27. Since entries opened on the official website – www.rallybarbados.net – on October 1, approaching 70 have been posted, with just over two months to go before entries close in early May.
Taunt and Murphy’s island debut in 2015 did not go to plan. Taunt admitted to “being a tad heavy right-footed into a square left after a very long fast straight!” and, while their Group N Subaru Impreza was repaired after the day one ‘off’, she did not restart. Taunt had been invited to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for the fourth straight year, where she had won the Saturday Rally Stage Driver of the Day Award in 2014, and the Impreza would need to be taken directly from Portsmouth to Goodwood on their return.
Even so, buoyed by what she described as “an amazing experience”, Taunt returned in 2016, despite having to buy a second, asphalt spec, Impreza N10 (‘Tilly Tarmac’) to ensure that she could satisfy her new-found interest in Sol Rally Barbados and her long-term commitment to Goodwood, as the four-week gap between the two events had been cut to three. And it was worth it, as they finished 45th overall and fourth in Group N.
Since then, Taunt has seen no rallying action, her first event being April’s Corbeau Seats Rally Tendring & Clacton, the first closed-road rally in mainland Britain. She told rallybarbados.net: “We’re so looking forward to both events and Clacton will be a good warm-up, as it will be two years since I last drove a rally car in anger. I must thank Infinity on The Beach, who have continued as a sponsor with us, along with ASF Sign Factory, Combined Scaffolding, Guest & Fiore Bricklayers, Darren Dixen, Jim Griffiths Car & Body Repairs, 710 Oil and, of course, Julie Murphy’s Driving School.”
Taunt has won more than 20 titles, half of them with Murphy, since winning a ‘Find a Lady Rally Driver’ competition in 1995. While some are Ladies Champion – from the 1998 Association of Central Southern Motor Clubs Championship to the 2012 Association of North East Midland Motor Clubs title – she has also won the British F1400 Championship, the BRC RallyMasters Production Cup twice and three Class titles.
Spencer and husband Barry, aka ‘Chezza’ and ‘Bazza’, are making their fifth trip to compete in Barbados. On holiday to spectate in 2007, Cheryl had never driven a rally car but, a year later, they competed in Sol Rally Barbados 2008, got married at The Boatyard, and this year intend to renew their vows at Bushy Park. After retiring at their first try when the wiring loom of their Vauxhall Astra caught fire, they finished 41st (second in Production 3) the following year.
In Sol Rally Barbados 2014, a planned spectating holiday turned in to a rallying one, when island competitor Chris Williams offered the use of the family’s Ford Fiesta – they claimed their best result, 35th (second in Modified 6). On their most recent visit, back in their own Astra, they finished 55th and fourth in Clubman in Sol Rally Barbados 2015.
Spencer said: “We are lucky to have support from Barbados businesses Dover Beach Hotel – again and the Marco Polo Bar and Grill, along with UK sponsors Hillside Vehicle Services, Titan Exhausts, SC Performance, Waterfront Accident Repairs, Sequoia Landscapes and Central Park Bodyshop. Without their backing, we just couldn’t do this.”
“Pinch yourself – it’s Saturday and we’re rallying in Barbados!”
Alison Trenholme, who has been rallying a Group A Impreza since 2012 with husband Jon – ‘The Flying Farmer’ – is looking forward to competing for the second time, after they finished 29th in Sol Rally Barbados 2017. Asked what struck her most last year, the North Yorkshire accountant said: “Heading back south from the Dark Hole stage, where you can see both sides of the island . . . that was the real ‘pinch yourself’ moment: Yea, it’s a Saturday afternoon and we’re rallying in this beautiful island of Barbados!”
The couple from Thirsk, where Jon is an arable and livestock farmer, flew home yesterday after a week in the island, now a regular holiday destination, facing freezing temperatures on their return. Looking back on last year, Jon said: “We were pleased with 29th overall, but didn’t realise we were second in Group A until Avinash Chatrani came and congratulated us at the finish – that meant a lot, coming from one of the locals. Apart from the heat, which is really draining, there’s little to complain about; everyone is so welcoming and we have made many new friends.”
Since then, they have competed only once, finishing 13th overall – their best result yet – from 63 starters and 44 finishers on the Tyneside Stages on the high-speed Otterburn Ranges in Northumberland last August. They will have just one outing before Sol Rally Barbados 2018, the Warcop Stages in April, a shakedown for a second Impreza they have built.