Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho is the first regional entry for Sol Rally Barbados 2019, the 30th running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, while confirmation of American George Sherman’s participation brings to 10 the number of overseas entries so far shown in the online entry list.
Campaigning his Ford Fiesta R5, Coelho joins Britain’s Tom Preston (Skoda Fabia R5) in the new FIA R5 category, while Sherman has upgraded Coelho’s former Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX to run in Modified 4.
Welshman Elfyn Evans, who finished third for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team in last weekend’s Rally Mexico, round three of the 2019 WRC, was the first driver to compete in Barbados in an R5-spec car. He was third in Sol RB16 in a Fiesta R5 Evo with then co-driver Craig Parry, but two years passed before Preston and Carl Williamson finished ninth overall last year, winning Group A, in which the Fabia was classified at the time.
Sol Rally Barbados 2019 will run from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 2, with The Rally Show on the previous Saturday (May 25) followed by Flow King of the Hill at its new Stewarts Hill location on the Sunday. In three decades, it has evolved from small beginnings as the All-Stage Rally of 1990 into the Caribbean’s biggest annual motorsport International and a key national event on the island’s sports-tourism calendar.
Former T&T kart and circuit racing champion Coelho became the first regional driver to take the leap into R5 ownership, when he debuted the Subway-backed Fiesta at the MCBI Rally of the Sun & Stars last September with regular co-driver James Harris, finishing fourth overall. He finished ninth, seventh and fifth in the BRC’s double-header Winter Sprint, then the Winter Rally, ending the season runner-up in Group A.
Comparing the Fiesta and Evo XI, Coelho said: “I have really enjoyed the transition, but there were some hurdles. As a purpose-built race car, I found that it needs to be driven very differently from the production-based cars I was accustomed to. You can carry so much corner speed and the brakes are unbelievable, as is the way it transfers weight. It has been quite the experience adjusting, but so much fun at the same time.
“Also, I had never competed in a left-hand-drive car and, minor as this may seem, all the stages that I’d become familiar with over the years looked different at speed from the other side of the cockpit. So did the left-entry chicanes! It really is a car that inspires great driver confidence and I am looking forward to continuing to grow into it.”
Coelho has a mixed history in Sol Rally Barbados, which he has missed only once since 2010, his first season in rallying. While he has always finished King of the Hill – eighth last year was his first top 10 result – he has been an overall finisher in the main event only twice. He put four years of DNFs behind him in 2015, third in Group N (18th overall) in the former Geoff Noel Evo IX, winning the BRC GpN title at year-end, then finished second in GpN (17th overall) the following year.
His DNFs came through a variety of mechanical dramas: last year, steering rack; Sol RB17 engine; Sol RB14 gearbox mount. Coelho said: “I am not missing the grief that accompanied the regular mechanical failures with the Evo. And that being said, so far this is one of my newfound joys at running the R5.”
Coelho’s good friend George Sherman, who had serviced for him on Sol Rally Barbados in recent years, made his rallying debut in Barbados on the 2017 Shakedown Stages, driving Coelho’s GpN Evo IX with son Anthony as co-driver. After some drag and circuit racing experience in the USA, Sherman has become a regular visitor to Barbados, running the Evo IX in Subway/Zanzibar/Kaizan Sushi colours to become BRC GpN Champion last year, also winning the Club’s Novice Award. For Sol Rally Barbados 2019, the car has been upgraded to run in the new Modified 4 class, with suspension, gearbox and turbo parts from Coelho’s former GpA car, to which Sherman has added more parts of his own.