BIRD PLUCKED AND SWANN STUFFED? “SHERIFF” SKEETE AND LUIS VENEZIA WIN SOL RALLY BARBADOS
Roger Skeete returned to the top step of the Sol Rally Barbados podium at the weekend (May 30-June 1) for the first time since 2011, claiming his 13th victory in the 25-year history of the island’s premier event and extending his remarkable record. As he drove his Subaru Impreza WRC S12 into Parc Ferme at the finish, he said: “Fantastic. After the last two years, I am very happy with the result.”
In second place, England’s Rob Swann and Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod (Impreza S11) earned their first Barbados podium, also collecting trophies for highest-placed overseas 4wd, while Trinidad’s John Powell (Ford Focus WRC08) claimed his third, the first with Jamaica’s Hugh Hutchinson.
After months of planning, the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) had more than one reason to celebrate as it marked the 25th running of its premier event: a record-equalling 13 cars were entered in the World Rally Car classes, while the 33 overseas crews included 23 drivers or co-drivers competing in the island for the first time, testament to the event’s solid reputation in the wider Caribbean and further afield.
Winner for the past two years, Britain’s Paul Bird (Focus WRC08) returned determined to become the only driver other than Skeete to claim a hat-trick of wins; he set his stall out early with victory in the Scotiabank King of the Hill ‘shakedown’, then a dominant performance in Friday evening’s opening stage at the redeveloped Bushy Park Circuit.
With his winning co-driver of last year, Welshman Aled Davies, Bird won all nine stages in the first three loops of Karcher Sailor Gully, Automotive Art Canefield and Spring Vale, extending his overnight lead from 1.65 to 25.66 secs, as crews fitted their lamp pods ready for the final three stages after nightfall. The former UK Champion’s challenge ended in Sailor Gully, however, as he explained: “I was carrying a little more speed through a corner when I drifted the slightest bit wide. I was hardly off line at all, but there was some cut rock on the exit, which I hit and it broke two wheels and the suspension. This rally is the highlight of my year so I’m naturally gutted, but we’ll be back to fight again next year.”
Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell Jnr (Focus WRC06) were fastest on the other two stages, climbing up the order after a first-corner spin on Friday night had cost them more than 2mins; by close of play, they were eighth, having lost only a few more seconds on an event where Panton admits it takes him a while to get into the groove.
By mid-morning Sunday, it looked as though Skeete might be on his way to setting a new kind of record, by becoming the first driver to win the island’s premier event without setting a fastest stage time. Panton had increased his score to five stage wins on the first loop of Bushy Park, Kendal and Malvern, moving up to seventh and creating another off-the-wall record – all 16 stage wins so far claimed by drivers of a Focus WRC!
Behind the overall battle, there was more intrigue in WRC-2, for cars built before the end of 2003, where UK drivers Roger Duckworth and Kevin Procter, in Impreza S6 and S7 respectively, swapped stage wins and the class lead throughout Saturday; Duckworth led by 1.84secs overnight, then won all Sunday’s stages, Procter also losing 15secs to a start-line stall on the second Bushy Park. They finished fifth and seventh overall, while local Toyota dealer Roger Hill (Corolla WRC) lost third in WRC-2 and what would have been his 17th top 10 finish in 25 years to a fuel pump failure.
The promised battle for two-wheel-drive supremacy between Josh Read (Toyota Starlet), Roger Mayers (WR Starlet) and Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi) hardly materialised. Read missed Saturday’s fourth stage to resolve a brake problem, dropping out of the running for overall position, while Skeete (suspension) and Mayers (gearbox) also went missing, leaving Rhett Watson (BMW M3) in charge . . . and he remained so to the end, eighth overall his best Sol RB result as a driver, top 2wd, with a family hat-trick of class wins to boot. Watson said: “It means a lot to have my name in the history books next to drivers like Sean Gill, Neil Armstrong and Ian Warren.”
After an impressive drive, Andrew Jones (Ford Escort MkII) finished ninth, second 2wd and class winner for the second year in a row – 21 places further up the overall order than last year – while England’s Lindsey Pilkington collected the trophy as highest-placed female co-driver. Group N winner Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) claimed the final slot in the top 10, his principal opponents, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IXs of Geoff Noel (suspension) and Mark Thompson (accident), out on Saturday.
Overseas visitors also claimed six class wins and 10 further podium finishes: winners were English newcomers Dick Mauger (M6 Nissan Micra) and Chris Shooter (Int Hist Escort MkII) while, among the returnees, Andrew Costin-Hurley (GpB2 Ford Puma) and Northern Ireland’s John Hardman (Clubman Micra) each claimed a third class win – Hardman also highest-placed overseas fwd – with Rupert Lomax (GpA Evo VI) from Wales and Scotland’s Allan Mackay (SM10 Ford Anglia WRC) winning for the first time.
Podium finishers included three newcomers – second were Ireland’s Brendan Brosnan (GpB1 Peugeot 205) and Frank Kelly (SM11 Escort MkII), the latter also highest-placed overseas rwd, and England’s Tim Green (GpN Impreza). Returnees finishing second were Ireland’s Peter Gallagher (Clubman Peugeot 306), English drivers Ding Boston (Int-Hist Alfa Romeo GTV), Stuart Deeley (GpB2 Toyota Celica GT4) and Cheryl Spencer (M6 Ford Fiesta), plus Paul Horton (M7 Escort MkI) of the Turks & Caicos Islands. England’s Simon Wallis (GpN Impreza) and Nigel Worswick (SM11 Escort MkII) each finished third.