PANTON & FENNELL’S SOL RALLY BARBADOS HAT-TRICK

Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton and Michael Fennell Jnr survived a late-afternoon scare on the final day of Sol Rally Barbados 2017 (June 2-4) to claim a hat-trick of victories in their Ford Focus WRC06, leading home only the fourth podium lock-out by overseas competitors in the 28-year history of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) blue riband event. Despite a heavy hit on the final pass through Padmore, costing 15 seconds compared with their previous run, they had built up a sufficient margin to win by 1m 15.69s.

Regular British visitors filled the next three places: second for Rob Swann and Darren Garrod (Subaru Impreza WRC S12B) equalled their best result, while Roger Duckworth (Impreza S6), co-driven by Alun Cook, claimed his first podium and a fourth win in WRC-2. He had been up to 9secs behind Kevin Procter and Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta) earlier in the day, but a determined charge in the afternoon carried him past on the final Malvern, leaving Procter only the two kilometres inside Bushy Park Barbados to claw back the time; although he failed to do so, Procter still equalled his best result.

Panton, who was the event’s first regional winner in 1998, had previously finished second to Northern Ireland’s Kenny McKinstry and ahead of fellow-countryman Doug Gore in 1996, and also led home Simon Jean-Joseph of France and Britain’s Paul Bird in 2015. Ulsterman Kris Meeke, Bird and Jamaica’s Gary Gregg filled the podium in 2008.

For only the third time, the highest-placed local crew finished fifth, 13-time winner of the island’s premier event Roger Skeete discovering too late in the day what had been hampering the speed of his Impreza S12B. In a visibly-committed display, he won the final stage by 0.5sec, to the delight of the huge crowd that had assembled at Bushy Park for the finish and after-party, he and Luiz Venezia reprising their fifth-place finish of 2015, when Finland’s Toni Gardemeister placed fourth. In 2008, Sean Gill (Suzuki Swift) finished fifth and top two-wheel-drive, with Steve Perez the fourth-placed visitor.

After the results were made final yesterday (Monday), General Manager of Sol (Barbados) Ltd Ezra Prescod presented Panton and Fennell with their awards at a packed Prizegiving at The Boatyard beach bar in the island’s capital, Bridgetown. They received the trophies for first place, victory in WRC-1 and highest-placed non-national 4wd, the most successful of the 25 overseas crews heading home with trophies.

Panton said: “The win is a little bitter-sweet, because we damaged the car, but the result is what counts and it’s three in a row. I’m surprised at the nature of it, though. I knew we had an advantage and we’d be able to put down some good times, but I was surprised by the amount of time we put on, for sure.”

The Jamaican’s stated aim before the start was to push hard on the two new 7km night-time stages from Indian Ground to Diamond Corner that followed Friday’s Ceremonial Start at Sol Warrens, and he did just that. Fastest on both, he started Saturday morning with a 22secs advantage, which he steadily grew to 51secs by lunchtime, then 1m 18s by the end of the day as the route covered stages at Lamberts, Spring Vale and Canefield, including running downhill through the Vaucluse Raceway (VRW). While Swann won two stages, his first in Sol RB, he had made a couple of mistakes, although it never looked as though his second place was under threat.

Behind Swann, Skeete was initially third, but a couple of stalls dropped him to sixth, promoting son Dane to third, who battled first with Procter, then Duckworth, all the while maintaining a comfortable lead in two-wheel-drive in his Peugeot 306 Maxi. Procter was firmly in third by lunch, Duckworth fourth by the end of the day, with ‘The Sheriff’ moving ahead of Dane on the day’s final stage.

As the route moved to familiar ground at Drax Hall and Malvern on Sunday, Panton continued to win stages – his total was 15 at the finish – and, while Swann won two more, he was not about to catch the leader, despite Panton’s mishap at Padmore, which handed Duckworth the stage win. Dane Skeete’s engine blew mid-morning, promoting Barry Mayers (Ford Fiesta) to top 2wd, while trying to defend sixth place from Roger Hill (Toyota Corolla WRC), which he succeeded in doing until Bushy Park, where Hill was nearly 3 secs faster, sufficient to claim the place.

Swann said: “As always, it’s been an awesome event. It’s been a tough three days but we’ve really enjoyed it. We had some issues Friday night that dropped us a bit of time, but we got over them. We’ve had a really good time in the car. Some of the stage times have been really fantastic. We’ll be back next year… for the win!” Skeete added: “We found what had been holding the car back for a little while now, and it was a difficult process to find it. It’s a very different car, now that’s been found. Water under the bridge, c’est la vie. We fought to the end and we’ll do the same next year.”

Having slipped out of the top 10 only once on their first visit, Britain’s Graham Coffey and Patrick Walsh (Impreza S12B) finished eighth, ahead of Justin Campbell/Juan Watts (BMW M3) and Andrew Jones/Lindsey Pilkington (Ford Escort MkII). After finally winning 2wd at Flow King of the Hill, Rhett Watson/James Hutchinson (M3) did not even start Sol RB17 with electrical issues, but a thrilling battle for SuperModified 3 still developed: the lead changed five times, last year’s winner Campbell dropping behind ‘Jonesy’ on Saturday’s final stage, but retaking the lead first thing Sunday. Mid-way through the day, the gap was just eight-tenths, but Campbell fought back to win and claim his highest overall finish. They shared stage wins almost equally, Campbell 10 – Jones 11.

By lunchtime on Saturday, there had been a significant degree of attrition, with only 69 of the 87 starters still in the overall running. Among those missing were the SM2 Starlets of Roger Mayers and Josh Read, the former having suffered a repeat of his KotH gearbox failure, while Read had a timing chain breakage on Friday evening, damaging the engine. Neither looked set to return, although Read made a brief appearance on Canefield, but crashed just before turning in to VRW.

In the four-wheel-drive classes, there was less competition than last year. English crew Nigel Worswick/Rebecca Kirsch finished third in WRC-2 behind Duckworth and Hill and 11th overall, ‘job done’ after last year’s retirement. Locals Avinash Chatrani (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) and Mark Thompson (Evo IX) won Group A and GpN respectively; first-timers Jon and Alison Trenholme (Impreza) were the only other finishers in GpA after Welsh crew Rupert Lomax/Dave Alcock (Evo VIII) and Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho/James Harris (Evo IX) and Ryan Pinheiro/Ross Vieira (Evo V) retired. In GpN, locals Andrew Mallalieu/Geoff Goddard (Impreza N10) finished second with UK crew Antony Pownall/Rikki Proffitt (Evo IX) third on their second visit.

After a broken axle ruled him out of the overall running on SS3, reigning BRC Champion Driver Daryl Clarke led the Sunday Cup throughout in his Honda Civic, winning all but the last stage. Scotland’s Barry Groundwater, who had had an unplanned visit to a ditch in his Evo X late-afternoon on Saturday, chased him hard, winning the technical two-kilometre stage at Bushy Park Barbados – eighth overall of the 66 cars still running – with ex-pat Bajan Chris Ullyett and daughter Chantal (BMW M3) taking the trophies for third place home to Canada.

Overseas crews claimed 13 more class wins or podiums: winners were English returnees Pete Rayner (GpB1 Ford Escort MkI) and Frans Verbaas (Rover Mini Cooper) from the Netherlands, who enjoyed an event-long battle for supremacy in GpB2 with England’s Andrew Costin-Hurley (Ford Puma Evo), which was not resolved until the final stage at Bushy Park; newcomers James Thomson (Modified Vauxhall Nova) and Robin Hamilton (Historic 1 Talbot Sunbeam) also claimed winners’ trophies.

In Modified 2, jointly the event’s largest classification with 11 starters, there was an overseas podium lock-out: regular visitor Paul Horton (Turks & Caicos Islands) led a Citroen DS 3 R3 MAX one-two, ahead of first-timer Andrew Hockridge (Wales), with another regular Welsh visitor, Paul Rees (Vauxhall Astra GTE), third. Second-place finishes were claimed by Ireland’s Peter Gallagher (C1 Peugeot 206XSi) and Martinique’s Pascal Calvel (M1 Citroen C2 R2 Max), with third-place trophies going to returnees Raymond Clough (H2 Escort MkI) and Scotland’s Allan Mackay (SM2 Ford Anglia WRC) and newcomer from Ireland Kevin Flanagan (SM1 Mini Cooper S). Finally, on his 17th consecutive trip to compete in Barbados, Martin Stockdale added to his previous stash of trophies as highest-placed non-national rwd.

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