SOL RALLY BARBADOS 2018: Unique Nissan-engined Ford Fiesta joins Kiwi family team

Former New Zealand Junior Rally Champion Craig Marshall, his brother Nick and their cousin David Proud spearhead the three-car Window Factory Marshall Motorsport team heading for Sol Rally Barbados 2018. With their two familiar Peugeots and a new-build Group B Ford Fiesta, the trio represent the strongest entry yet to make the 28,000-kilometre round trip from the other side of the world.

Sol RB18 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 1-3, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill (KotH) the previous weekend, May 26/27. With the entry closing date (April 27) just three weeks away, crews on both sides of the Atlantic are finalising their plans. Including island competitors, nearly 70 are now listed in the on-line entry on the official web site, rallybarbados.net, including 19 four-wheel-drive cars.

The Kiwi dynasty first dipped their toe in the water of the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International in 2014, when Craig and Nick’s father, New Zealand rallying legend Mike Marshall, visited Top Gear Festival Barbados, then stayed on for Sol RB14. He and partner Heather ended up servicing for veteran British driver Dick Mauger, which spawned a close friendship, one with a direct bearing on this year’s three-car entry.

Marshall, who finished second to Hannu Mikkola in Rally New Zealand 1973, then won the event in 1975, will arrive in the island leading a 14-strong team, to meet up with Mauger and two new English co-drivers. As he did last year, Craig will drive the family’s Peugeot 106 Maxi, with new-to-Barbados co-driver Kiwi Karl Celeste; Nick will drive the team’s new Ford Fiesta ‘S3000’, with co-driver Declan Dear, who brings regular sponsor Pirelli and a pallet of tyres from the UK, while cousin David will campaign the Peugeot 206 GTi 180 with new co-driver Stuart Leach.

The Peugeots left Auckland a week ago, while the Fiesta is in England, being prepared by Mauger and his son Simon, who finished 10th in Sol RB15 in his Ford Escort MkII. Clothed in a Ford Fiesta S2000 body shell, it was built for the MSA and Irish Tarmac Championships by Scotland’s Roy Smith, but he found it a handful (for an older driver) once testing got under way. Built using components from a number of WRC suppliers and powered by a 420bhp 3-litre Nissan V6 engine, driving through a sequential six-speed gearbox, this unique car is unused apart from test mileage.

Mike Marshall said: “Sol Rally Barbados has been the factor in the relationship between our two families and we would not have gone ahead with the Fiesta project without their help and expertise. We applaud everything Dick and Simon have done, as they have been working on a number of potential issues around heat protection, suspension and steering, tuning and drivability.” Although he has never competed in a four-wheel-drive car, Nick’s objective in Sol RB18 is to beat older brother Craig and win Group B.

Declan Dear is a busy co-driver in the UK and class-winner on Wales Rally GB National 2017 in Shawn Rayner’s MkII Escort. Triumph turned to tragedy between Christmas and New Year, however, when Rayner, known fondly as ‘The Big Man’, and Declan’s father Steve succumbed to injuries sustained in an accident on an event in Southern England.

Declan, Senior Project Engineer at McLaren Special Operations, recalls: “Rally GB was a good one for us. That was our last rally together and the memories of the champagne moment on the finish ramp in Llandudno will be kept close to my heart. I miss The Big Man immensely and, despite how excited and grateful I am for the opportunity with Nick, I wish I still had the chance to do it with Shawn and Dad. I’ll be rallying in their memory and what unbelievably fast, adrenaline-fuelled memories they are!”

Dear learned of the available seat in the Marshall Fiesta through Facebook in February, as he explains: “It was a tough time for me and a really difficult thing to sell myself so soon after what had happened, but equally I knew that’s what Shawn and Dad would have wanted me to do. I had sat with good friend Ashley Davies on the Brands Hatch Stages to make sure I could still do it, so I thought ‘why not?'”

Sol Rally Barbados had been on Rayner’s ‘bucket list‘ and had already been discussed with Dave Jenkins, who built (and will drive) the Weir Rallying UK MkII Escort, which was unveiled recently. Dear says: “Dave Jenkins was very close to Shawn and I and did a fair bit of work on Shawn’s MkIIBessie‘. Shawn’s grand plan was a two-car team with Dave and Ross Weir in the Escorts, so we know that he and Dad will be there in spirit.”

Having won the NZ Junior title in 1996, Craig soon took a break from rallying, returning a decade or so later, finishing second in the 2008 Silver Fern Rally in the 206 now driven by David Proud; a further break came before his trip to Sol RB17 – although he retired, he gathered a lot of data on the 106 Maxi, which had been driven twice in Barbados by his father.

The team report: “The car needed to be faster, so it has new suspension rates, lower gear ratios, further weight reductions, new brakes, smaller wheels and a new engine from Dobrolowski Motor Sport in Poland. We estimate that it is two seconds per kilometre quicker.” With new co-driver Karl Celeste, a regular competitor in the NZ National Championship, Craig’s target is a top 20 finish and class podium.

Cousin David, who first developed an interest in rallying watching uncle Mike – his Mum’s brother – in Rally New Zealand in the 1970s, only started competing in 2016, and in circuit racing and hillclimbs, rather than rallying. He won the 2016/17 Continental Rennsport Championship, which brings together a range of European marques, such as Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen VW, claiming both Overall and BMW class titles.

Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB18 marks the 11th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the third by communications provider Flow.

In his Barbados debut in the 206 GTi 180 last year, with New Zealand’s Anita Campbell co-driving, Proud finished 38th and fourth in Modified 2. For 2018, his target is a class podium, with English co-driver Stuart Leach, with whom he struck up a friendship last year, when the eight-time veteran of island events finished third in M2 with Paul Rees. Unlike the 106, this car is unchanged, apart from maintenance and testing.

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