Three-time winner of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, Jamaica’s Jeff Panton starts his preparations for Sol Rally Barbados 2017 in earnest on Sunday (April 23), seeded at number one for the Automotive Art Shakedown Stages. The 38-car running order was confirmed at Thursday’s Briefing Meeting at Copacabana, Bay Street, for what is now round one of the BRC Driver’s and Class Championships.

With 10 stages over 37 kilometres – a little under one-third of the projected distance for Sol RB17 – Sunday’s event will give crews some valuable pointers as to where they stand against the opposition and whether their winter development work has paid off.

With regular co-driver Mike Fennell in his Ford Focus WRC06, Panton starts ahead of Roger Skeete and Louis Venezia (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B) and Britain’s Rob Swann, who won last year’s Shakedown Stages on the debut of his Impreza S12B; he rekindles his successful partnership with Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod. Roger Hill and Graham Gittens complete the WRC class in their Toyota Corolla WRC, which enjoyed a ground-up rebuild over the closed season.

Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho has shipped his Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX back to Barbados and will enjoy competition from Avinash Chatrani (Evo VI), while Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) will be targeting a fourth consecutive GpN victory, which he won last year by a margin of less than a quarter of a second from Mark Thompson (Evo IX).

Despite the absence of Josh Read and Roger Mayers, who finished second and third overall, the fight for two-wheel-drive honours will still be a tough one, with Barry Mayers (Ford Fiesta), 2014 & ’15 BRC Champion Driver Rhett Watson (BMW M3) and Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi), who are seeded at four, six and eight respectively, expected to be the leading contenders. Also in the mix will be Andrew Jones (Ford Escort MkII), Justin Campbell (M3), Reigning Champion Driver Daryl Clarke, who will debut his new Honda Civic, former 2wd Champion Logan Watson (M3) and Neil Corbin, who has upgraded his Toyota Starlet to SuperModified 1.

Panton, Swann and Coelho are the top seeds among a total of seven overseas entries, a record in recent years outside Sol Rally Barbados: with Coelho back in GpA, his GpN Evo IX will be campaigned by American former drag and circuit racer George Sherman, who has serviced for Coelho on Sol RB in recent years; from the Turks & Caicos Islands, Stan Hartling and Paul Horton are joined for the first time by Jamaican-born T & C resident Pierre Beswick. Hartling will debut his recently-completed BMW M3, while Horton and Beswick are both Citroen-mounted – Horton in the DS 3 R3 MAX which he first campaigned in the Motoring Club of Barbados Inc’s recent event, down on power due to a fuel-mapping issue, and Beswick, hopefully, in his C2 R2 MAX, which was still in the Bridgetown Port on Friday morning.

Ten special stages are planned at two venues, with the 9.30am start, lunch break and finish (approximately 4.30pm) at the Kendal Plantation Yard in St John. In the morning, there will be three runs of a 4.2-kilometre stage from Society to Pool, alternating with two runs from Wilson Hill to Malvern (3.2kms). In the afternoon, the stages will be reversed, with two runs from Pool to Society and three from Malvern to Wilson Hill. The Service Park will also be at Kendall, as will the post-event Prizegiving, scheduled for approximately 5.30pm.

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