PANTON’S CHALLENGES IN HIS RUBIS FORD FOCUS FOR MONTH-END’S SOL RALLY BARBADOS 2020
Despite winning Sol Rally Barbados four times in the last five years, Jamaica’s Jeff Panton is approaching this year’s 31st running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event in a less than confident mood. In a year in which coronavirus has created unprecedented global upheaval, the continuing social distancing and travel restrictions under Covid-19 protocols mean planning for the event has been anything but simple.
Following its postponement as a result of the pandemic, the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event will now run over the weekend of October 31/November 1, with the Prizegiving on the Sunday evening. The previous Saturday, Bushy Park will host Scrutineering, while King of the Hill on the Sunday will return to Stewarts Hill, running on a similar course to last year and once again the basis for seeding the main event.
As he confirmed the entry of his Rubis/Sandals/KIG Ford Fiesta WRC on October 2nd, the region’s most successful driver outlined some of the challenges his team has been facing: “As you can imagine, the ever-changing Covid Protocols for high-risk countries such as Jamaica make it extremely difficult to plan in the usual way. Notwithstanding this, we have been working on it for some weeks and I am happy to say all has been sorted – although we will still be facing quite a few handicaps!”
While Panton will arrive in Barbados a full week before King of the Hill, his long-standing co-driver Mike Fennell Jnr will not be in the island until the day before; with a quarantine period necessary, he will therefore not be able to sit with Panton for the seeding event, when his place will be taken by Jason Cozier. Beyond that, depending on quarantine, there may be other knock-on effects, as Panton explained: “Mike may not be released from quarantine in time to do notes, so I will have to do that in advance by myself, while a reduced number of crew will attend, which will also increase the work load on Brett Judd and his team at ProAuto Works.”
Having retired from Sol RB19 after a high-speed accident which all but destroyed his hugely successful Ford Focus WRC06, it was eight months before Panton and Fennell sat together in a competition car again, when they contested the Cadwell Park Stages in February in a Ford Fiesta R5, acquired in the deal to dispose of the remains of Focus. Having not seen the car ahead of a test session the day before, they were then plagued by technical issues in the event itself. While that car was due to be shipped to Barbados for the first event on the Rally Club calendar, Panton found a Fiesta WRC to replace it, then the coronavirus pandemic broke out, with worldwide lockdowns.
So, for the second time this year, the Jamaica duo will be sitting in a new competition car together for the first time when they line up to start Sol RB20, having been denied the chance for what Panton calls “much-needed seat time” by the pandemic. Panton did put his new mount to good use at HammerTime20, however, sharing the double-header overall wins with Britain’s Rob Swann in his own new Fiesta WRC: “Although I felt nervous and was overly cautious, I did my best given the circumstances of the day and am pleased with my initial pace!“
Looking ahead to Sol RB20, Panton concludes: “It’s unfortunate, given the circumstances, that we couldn’t get to do any more events with this car to try and get back up to speed following our accident and time off. For sure this will put us at a huge disadvantage, but we are committed to doing our best and hope to find a rhythm at some point during the event. It’s been a difficult year worldwide and RB20 will be no different, but we have to strive for some sense of normalcy and start to live again!”