The buzz around this year’s SOL Barbados Rally is already in the air. But before that extravaganza, several top drivers will get the chance to test their mettle when the Carter’s Pit-Stop Stages runoff in earnest this Sunday.
Reigning Barbados Rally Club (BRC) champion driver, Jamaica’s Jeff Panton, launches his title defence seeded at number one for the event. The 40-car running order confirmed at last night’s briefing meeting at the Barbados Clay Target Shooting Association’s club house, Searles, Christ Church, includes eight regional and international crews as competitors ramp up their preparations for the Sol Rally.
With 10 stages over 42 kilometres – a little over one-third of the projected distance for Sol Rally Barbados 2018 – this Sunday’s event will give crews valuable pointers as to where they stand against the opposition and whether their winter development work has paid off. Scrutineering at the Carter’s Wildey Complex from 3 p.m. tomorrow will give island fans their first chance to check out some of the overseas visitors.
Four-time winner of the BRC’s premier event – his 1998 victory as the first regional winner followed by a hat-trick over the past three years – Panton dominated the island scene last year, then won the Motoring Club of Barbados Inc.’s double-header two weeks ago. With regular co-driver Mike Fennell in his Ford Focus WRC06, Panton starts ahead of the Subaru Impreza WRC S12Bs of Roger Skeete, co-driven this weekend by Eric Allamby, and Britain’s Rob Swann, whose co-driver Darren Garrod arrives fresh from winning last Saturday’s Rallynuts Stages, round three of the Pirelli MSA Welsh Rally Championship, sitting with Matt Edwards (Ford Fiesta). Roger Hill and Graham Gittens complete the WRC class in their Toyota Corolla WRC.
While island fans will be eager to see how the leading crews shape up against one another in this first big test of the year, many will also rejoice at the return of Trevor ‘Electric Micey’ Manning. With son Sam as co-driver, ‘Micey’ will be putting his talents to good use as Car Zero, driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo originally campaigned with great success by his father Roger, before it was handed down through the family. It has been the subject of a painstaking rebuild in recent years – if it goes as well as it looks, it will cause a stir.
Scotland’s Andy Scott is seeded at five for his debut in a recently acquired Ford Fiesta R5, heading a four-strong Group A class, which now includes Andrew Mallalieu, who has upgraded his former GpN Impreza. The fight for two-wheel-drive honours promises some fireworks, with 2014 and 2015 BRC champion driver Rhett Watson (SuperModified 3 BMW M3) the top seed, ahead of Barry Mayers (SM2 Ford Fiesta), Dane Skeete (SM2 Peugeot 306 Maxi) and 2016 Champion Driver Daryl Clarke, who has moved his Honda Civic into SM2.
Panton, Swann and Scott are the top seeds among a total of eight overseas entries across six classes, a record in recent years outside Sol Rally Barbados: Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho will campaign his GpA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, while America’s George Sherman will again drive Coelho’s GpN Evo IX; from the Turks & Caicos Islands, Paul Horton, who won Modified 2 on Sol RB17, is back for the third time this year in his Citroen DS 3 R3 MAX, along with Stan Hartling (SM3 BMW M3), who will also oversee his son Benjamin’s debut in the island in a Citroen C2 R2 MAX.
Kendal Plantation Yard in St John will be the Service Park and central hub of two loops of five stages on Sunday. In the morning, three runs from Malvern to Wilson Hill (3.50kms) will alternate with two stages between Pool and Society (4.20kms). In the afternoon, the stages will be reversed, three from Society and two from Wilson Hill, although they will be 5.00kms and 4.00kms respectively, adding to the challenge and making for a total distance of 41.90kms. The day will end with a post-event social and prize-giving at Kendal at around 5 p.m., at which marshals and spectators are welcome to join the competitors to celebrate or commiserate.