Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell Jr. won the Carter’s Pit-Stop Stages yesterday in their Ford Focus WRC06, an ideal start to the reigning Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) champion driver’s title defence.
The final test before Flow King of the Hill and Sol Rally Barbados, the 10-stage, 42-kilometre event put the 38 starters through their paces, the weather also playing its part in the challenge.
Winner in 2016, Britain’s Rob Swann followed Panton home as he did last year, a little over seven seconds adrift, co-driven in the Subaru Impreza WRC S12B by Darren Garrod, with Roger Hill and Graham Gittens the first local crew home in their Toyota Corolla WRC.
Panton won six stages, Swann three, as the visitors eased their way back into competition. Swann stated: “We were a bit rusty on the first couple of stages, but after that we were right on the pace.” While Panton had shaken the car down at the Motoring Club’s (MCBI) event two weeks ago, there was still work to do. “I wanted to get back into the groove with Mike on the notes; we’re not quite there yet, as I made some mistakes, and the mixture of weather added to the challenge,” Panton said.
The top five was completed by the leading Group A cars, who had enjoyed a nip and tuck battle all day, just 3.3secs separating Avinash Chatrani in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI and Andrew Mallalieu, newcomer to the class in his Subaru Impreza. Chatrani won five stages and Mallalieu three, while Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Evo IX) won the other two to finish seventh overall.
But for a spin on SS1, Scotland’s Andy Scott, who finished ninth, might have been closer in his Ford Fiesta R5, although it was still ‘mission accomplished’. “Today’s objective was to get faster during the day and to finish. With the weather, we got to experience all kinds of conditions on the roads, which is useful for Sol Rally Barbados,” Scott noted.
The battle at the sharp end was not the only story, however, and the day’s first shock came early, with Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) fastest overall on the first Malvern to Wilson Hill. With his car now in SuperModified 2, Clarke said: “My plan was to be out of the box fast because I know the other two-wheel drive cars are quick from the start. It was a definite surprise to be fastest overall on SS1, then fastest 2wd heading into lunch; I didn’t expect that at all.”
Clarke was also in the top 10 overall all morning on Pool to Society, to lie third overall at the lunch break, leading a four-car 2wd battle covered by 9secs. Just behind were SM3 leader Rhett Watson (BMW M3), then SM2 runners Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi) and Barry Mayers (Ford Fiesta).
Although he slipped to 10th in the afternoon with a spin, then one run on a wet stage, Clarke said: “Overall I’m still happy with the result and the potential the car has shown.” Watson eventually prevailed, finishing sixth overall, having spent the early part of the day in R & D mode. “I took the first two stages to try a new tyre. They felt good, so we had to confidence to push a bit more.”
Mayers finished eighth, snatching SM2 from Clarke, after Skeete retired when a rim came off and spun him backwards into the foliage. Mayers explained: “Today was up and down with the weather. We did some more changes on the car, which we were happy with on dry tarmac, but the pace isn’t there in the wet.”
Of the record eight overseas visitors for an event outside Sol Rally Barbados, Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Islands (Citroen DS 3 R3 MAX) won Modified 2 despite a mid-stage excursion into a cane field, while George Sherman of the USA was the only runner in GpN in Coelho’s Evo IX. Jeremy Gonsalves (Opel Corsa) won SM1, Edward Corbin (Daihatsu Charmant) M1, Greg Cozier (Ford Escort RS) Historic 2 and Trevor Mapp (Mitsubishi Colt Mivec RS) Clubman 1.
The day’s closest margin of victory came in Clubman 2, all competitors driving BMW 318ti Compacts. Despite not winning any stages, the consistent Allan Kinch beat Ryan Wood, who won three, to the class win by just 1.19secs, with last year’s C2 champion Stuart Garcia another 8secs adrift. Early leader Derek Edwards, fastest on all the day’s other stages, slipped to fourth.
There were 25 overall finishers and another eight classified under the two-thirds rule for class positions, but others were left disappointed. The most high-profile DNF was Roger Skeete, who retired the Subaru Impreza WRC S12B after two stages, reporting a misfire. Both Ryan O Wood (Toyota Starlet) and Jermin Pope (Honda Civic) retired after damage to their cars, while Jamal Brathwaite (Civic) missed the final stage after his bonnet blew open on SS9.