BIRD JR HEADS FOR SOL RALLY BARBADOS 2022

Britain’s Frank Bird will this year realise his long-held ambition to compete in Sol Rally Barbados, the event won twice in a Ford Focus WRC07 by his father Paul. Having started the season with victory in the Brands Hatch Winter Stages (January 15), the team confirmed that Bird and co-driver Jack Morton, who sat with ‘Birdy’ when he finished third in Sol RB18, will enter the FIA R5 class in a Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared Ford Fiesta Rally2.

While Frank’s main focus is to build a career in GT and endurance racing, he has still managed to compete in 25 stage rallies since his debut at Donington Park in March 2019, where he finished fifth. He claimed his first win in the Lee Holland Memorial Stages at the Anglesey race circuit two weeks later, and his first on gravel, the Greystoke Stages, in July.

Those early victories and eight more came in the Focus in which his father had won in Barbados, which was retired at the end of 2020 for a rebuild. Since he switched to the more nimble Frank Bird Poultry/PBM/Hagar/Aico Fiesta, a further four victories have followed, although a repeat of his Greystoke win was thwarted by an off-road excursion.

Bird is looking forward to his first chance to compete in Barbados, having twice missed the chance in recent years because of clashes with his racing programme: "<em>The first time I was there, I was just 10 years old. It was great going out doing pace notes and the recce. And finally I get my chance to drive - I can't wait. I just wish we could have taken the Focus, that is such a special car and I know how popular it is out there</em>."

Bird is looking forward to his first chance to compete in Barbados, having twice missed the chance in recent years because of clashes with his racing programme: “The first time I was there, I was just 10 years old. It was great going out doing pace notes and the recce. And finally I get my chance to drive – I can’t wait. I just wish we could have taken the Focus, that is such a special car and I know how popular it is out there.”

Father Paul is comfortably the most successful of the Caribbean event’s international visitors, with only one DNF in his nine visits between 2008 and 2018; after finishing second twice, then third twice, he finally won in 2012, beating Paul Bourne, then again the following year, this time beating Jamaica’s Jeff Panton. In RB14, he crashed while leading late on Saturday, then claimed two further third-place finishes on his final two attempts, a record unrivalled even by locals. With 55 stage wins, he lies fourth in the roll of honour behind Panton (82), Bourne (60) and 13-time winner Roger Skeete (56).

The last of ‘Birdy’s podium finishes in 2018 was shared with Morton, now Bird Jnr’s co-driver, who returned the following year to finish seventh with fellow-Brit Graham Coffey, so has valuable experience of the event. The 27-year-old has been co-driving for more than a decade in a wide range of cars on both tarmac and gravel events. In addition to his recent successes with Frank, he has also won events in a Skoda Fabia WRC with John Stone, in both Ford Focus and Fiesta WRC with Damian Cole and has also read notes for island regular Tom Preston.

Frank started his circuit racing career in 2015 at age 15 in Ginetta Juniors on the support programme for the British Touring Car Championship, before switching to single-seaters, first in British Formula 4, then Formula Renault in Europe. His first taste of GT racing came in the 2018 Gulf 12 Hours and he has been concentrating on developing his career in GTs over the past two years. Along with Japanese teammate Ryuichiro Tomita and Danish driver Valdemar Eriksen, Bird helped the Belgian Team WRT Audi R8 LMS place second in the Team’s Silver Cup in the 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge.

Sol Rally Barbados is a tarmac rally, with around 20 special stages run on the island’s intricate network of public roads, under road closure orders granted by the Ministry of Transport, Works & Maintenance; the previous Sunday’s King of the Hill ‘shakedown’, run under a similar arrangement, features four timed runs on a roughly four-kilometre stage, the results of which are used to seed the running order for the main event.

Sol Rally Barbados and King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrates its 65th Anniversary in 2022; Sol RB22 marks the 15th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company.

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