The winds of change look set to blow through Sol Rally Barbados next year, as the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2017, marks the 30th running of its blue riband event.
With the two Ford Focus World Rally Cars which have won six of the past seven events currently advertised for sale in the United Kingdom and the club preparing to switch to its new 2019 to 2021 vehicle regulations, exciting times are ahead for island rallying.
Subject to final ratification by the Barbados Motoring Federation (BMF), Sol Rally Barbados 2019 will run from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 2, with The Rally Show (May 25) and Flow King of the Hill (May 26) the previous weekend. The event has evolved from small beginnings as the International All-Stage Rally of 1990 into the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international and a key national event on the island’s sports-tourism calendar.
The organisers anticipate that next year’s 30th edition will have a new look, as local, regional and international competitors are seeking to upgrade their equipment, in line with the evolution of the sport globally. Under the BRC’s new three-year cycle of vehicle regulations, World Rally Cars built later than 2008 will no longer be eligible, while the participation of cars built for the worldwide R5 category is encouraged.
The island’s first introduction to R5 came in 2016 when M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans finished third in that year’s rally in a Ford Fiesta R5 in which Martinique’s Simon Jean-Joseph had finished second in Rally Jamaica the previous December and Trinidad’s John Powell had won Rally Trinidad earlier in the year. Last year, Britain’s Tom Preston and Andy Scott were fighting for top 10 finishes throughout the weekend in Skoda Fabia and Fiesta R5 respectively. Preston, who had won the Wales Rally GB National Rally in 2017, finished ninth, with rallycross ace Scott 11th, sandwiching Ryan Champion’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX as the top three in Group A.
Further take-up of R5 has already started in the region. Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho, the BRC’s 2015 GpN champion, debuted his brand-new Fiesta on a Motoring Club of Barbados Inc (MCBI) speed event in late August. One of the most recent cars to leave the M-Sport facility in the north of England, it was fresh out of the Bridgetown Port a couple of days before he drove it to a third-place finish.
While other front-running competitors in the region and a number of the overseas visitors have been active in the R5 debate over the past couple of years, it seems now that the discussion may well have come to a head. Jamaica’s Jeff Panton, who has won the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international for the past four years, and former UK national rally champion Paul Bird, who won Sol Rally Barbados in 2012 & 2013, both have their cars on offer on UK websites. While nothing has been confirmed, it seems likely that Panton’s ex-Marcus Gronholm Focus WRC06 and ‘Birdy’s Focus WRC08, both now more than 10 years old, would be replaced by R5s, racking up the pressure on other regular participants in Sol Rally Barbados to respond.
BRC and Sol Rally Barbados 2019 chairman Mark Hamilton said: “We are excited about the coming years, as the evolution of worldwide regulations changes the face of rallying. It is essential for the Barbados Rally Club to create regulations which will sustain our local competition environment, but we also have to make sure that all those overseas visitors who have played such an important part in making Sol Rally Barbados a ‘bucket list’ event for crews around the world are not disadvantaged, or discouraged from entering.”