Former UK National Rally Champion Paul Bird successfully defended his Sol Rally Barbados title at the weekend (June 1/2), crowning a remarkable record in his six years contesting the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International. Second on his first two visits, third twice and now a back-to-back winner, he is also the only driver to have finished on the podium of the island’s premier event six times in a row.
After the results were made final yesterday afternoon, ‘Birdy’ and Welsh co-driver Aled Davies received their trophies from Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport, at a packed Prize-giving at The Boatyard on the outskirts of the island’s capital, Bridgetown. Their trophy haul also included those for first in WRC-1, while their Ford Focus WRC08 was highest-placed overseas four-wheel-drive car.
The winning margin – 24.54 seconds – was the biggest since 2005, the other podium finishers being Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell Jnr (Focus WRC06), one place higher than last year, and 12-time winner Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete, co-driven by Louis Venezia in his Subaru Impreza WRC S12.
After months of planning and preparation, the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) had more than one reason to celebrate: a record 13 cars entered in the World Rally Car classes and a record-equalling 29 International entries, with 24 first-time drivers or co-drivers bringing to more than 350 the total of overseas drivers hosted by the event, capped by a gripping rally played out in front of upwards of 20,000 spectators.
Bird said: “After winning last year, I wanted a taste of that again, so I was determined to repeat my victory. We had a good run and had no major issues with the car and, for once, I didn't make too many mistakes. This is a fantastic event and I'm privileged to win it, but you don't come all this way to finish second. Thanks to Aled for another great job, to the team for their efforts with the car and also the organisers and the thousands of fans. I've never seen so many people out watching.”
Fastest on stage one, Automotive Art Luke Hill, Bird would be the event’s only leader, steadily building his advantage during the day’s 10 stages – the second run through Karcher Sailor Gully was cancelled – to lead Panton by 28secs overnight. The Jamaican had one stage win and Skeete two, lying third, another 15secs adrift.
Bird won Sunday’s opening stage, Kendal, then three more around the lunch break, seemingly able to hit back each time his cushion narrowed – after Panton was quickest on the first LIME/Banks Golden Grove and Tappy Pond, the gap came down to 25secs, but Panton did not win another stage until claiming a hat-trick at the end of the day.
In the second morning loop, Skeete claimed a third stage win, then Neil Armstrong (Suzuki SX4 WRC) his first on his debut in the WRC class; he had wished for more, but a misfire on Saturday, then a puncture and some brake issues, left him fourth at the finish. He said: “That fastest time really lifted my spirits after a difficult weekend.”
Just behind the overall battle, there was more intrigue in WRC-2, catering for cars built before the end of 2003, such as local Toyota dealer Roger Hill’s Corolla WRC, which led the class by 10secs at the end of Saturday; Hill had claimed only one stage win and admitted that he should have gone faster on the rain-affected stages.
UK drivers Roger Duckworth (Impreza WRC S6), Kevin Procter (Impreza WRC S7) and Rob Swann (Impreza B13) shared the remaining stage wins between them, Duckworth recovering from an off on the opening stage, Procter also in trouble early in the day with overheating and anti-lag issues. Duckworth was fastest on all 11 Sunday stages, finishing fifth overall – moving up from seventh and sixth in the previous two years – heading Hill home by 26secs, with Procter third. Swann finished 13th overall, reinforcing his determination to return with a World Car capable of winning overall.
The remaining top 10 finishers had battled for two-wheel-drive supremacy throughout the weekend, Ian Warren (Suzuki Swift) finishing eighth, repeating his last overall finish of 2010, also winning SuperModified 10. Josh Read (Toyota Starlet) was ninth and Roger Mayers (WR Starlet) 10th. Read and Warren swapped times and the 2wd lead back and forth on Saturday, while Mayers was in the wars; after losing time to a fuel pump problem, he then accidentally hit the kill switch, losing time in Sailor Gully. Warren led by 6secs overnight, with Read second, Bryan Gill (BMW M3) third and Mayers fourth, 28secs behind Warren. Fastest on Sunday’s opening stage, Mayers moved up to third, but the order would not change after that, although the margins came down steadily.
In Group N, Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) and Geoff Noel (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) swapped times and the lead, until the former suffered a broken driveshaft, then a 100mph sixth gear spin on Saturday, so was playing catch-up. It was not Mallalieu who caught Noel, however, but circuit racer (of late) Mark Thompson, who snatched the Group N lead two stages from home, to win on his debut in his recently-acquired Evo IX.
Gill had looked set to win SM12, after a solid performance on Saturday saw him lead the class from the similar M3s of Martin Atwell and Rhett Watson. Once on home ground in the island’s south-east corner, Watson fought back, passing Atwell for second, and eventually Gill, who had a gearbox problem in the final stages.
Apart from those in the top 10, International visitors claimed five class wins and seven further podium finishes. Winners were New York-based Irishman Michael O’Leary (Group A Evo X) on his first visit, while returnees Holland’s Frans Verbaas (Group B Mini Cooper S) claimed his third Barbados win, Northern Ireland’s John Hardman (Group B2 Nissan Micra) and England’s Andrew Siddall (Historic Ford Escort) their second, and Paul Rees (M5 Vauxhall Astra) from Wales his first.
Podium finishers included three newcomers from Ireland - Maurice Moffett (GpB1 Starlet), Danny O’Brien (SM9 Starlet) and Eddie Power (M6 Renault Clio S1600), who not only finished second in class, but also 10th 2wd and highest-placed overseas front-wheel-drive. Irish regulars Glenn Campbell (SM11 Micra Kit Car) and Peter Gallagher (M6 Peugeot 206) also claimed trophies, along with England’s Andrew Costin-Hurley (GpB Ford Puma) and Rob Weir (Historic Triumph TR7 V8), while Ireland’s Raymond Conlon (Corolla) was highest-placed overseas rear-wheel-drive.
Unlike last year, Panton was not the only regional driver to finish, as Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Islands finally made it to the end of Sol RB at his fourth attempt, finishing second in M7 in his Ford Escort MkI.
Sol Rally Barbados 2013 (June 1/2) and Scotiabank King of the Hill (May 26) are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsors are the Sol Group and Scotiabank. Marketing partners are Simpson Motors, LIME, Automotive Art, Banks and Karcher; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Tourism Development Corporation, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line and Virgin Atlantic Airways; associate sponsors are Chefette, Field Insurance, Glacial Pure, Little Switzerland, Redline Fuels, Stoute’s Car Rental and West Indies Rum Distillery.
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