PANTON SEEKS SIXTH RALLY BARBADOS WIN IN 2022
Five-time winner of the island’s premier event, Jamaica’s Jeff Panton is looking forward eagerly to some close competition in Sol Rally Barbados, which he will enter this year for the first time in the growing FIA R5 class. As the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) marks its 65th Anniversary, Sol RB22 is scheduled for the weekend of June 4 & 5, with King of the Hill on the previous Sunday (May 29).
With his longstanding co-driver Mike Fennell Jnr alongside, Panton is hoping for some much-needed seat time ahead of the 32nd running of the BRC’s blue riband event: “I’m excited for the season and some close and competitive racing within the R5 class, that will undoubtedly push us to be on top of our game.”
Since his first experience competing in an R5-spec Ford Fiesta two years ago at Cadwell Park, when tricky conditions and then mechanical issues frustrated an otherwise upbeat day, Panton returned to the WRC class in Barbados. A broken axle when leading by 18 seconds three stages from the finish cost him an almost certain sixth victory in the island in Sol RB20, although four stage wins brought his total since the event was renamed Rally Barbados in 2003 to 82, comfortably ahead of local drivers Paul Bourne (60) and Roger Skeete (56).
After competing in the BRC Winter Rally in 2020 and three further island events last year, the Fiesta WRC has now been sold and replaced by a Rubis, Sandals Resorts and KIG-supported Ford Fiesta Rally2. After retiring from Rallye Mont-Blanc Morzine in France last September in their debut event in the Fiesta, Panton and Fennell returned to Europe in December to contest the MAXUS Dukeries Rally, a circuit-based event; 26th after an ‘off’ on SS1, they steadily worked their way up the order, top 10 times over the final three stages bringing them up to 11th at the finish.
With the damage repaired and the car refreshed by Dom Buckley Motorsport, Panton reports: “Yes, the car is now on the way to Barbados for some seat time on the Bajan roads leading up to RB22. I would love to do some more French tarmac rallies later this year and hope that we can get some good closed-road events in Barbados to get acclimatised. The small events around the race-tracks, while I am grateful to the organisers for having been able to run them in what has been such a difficult time, are not very conducive to ‘proper rallying‘.”
Twice the Caribbean Rally Champion (1996 & ’98), Panton is unique in having won regional rallying’s ‘Big Three’ – tarmac in Barbados (1998, 2015-’19), gravel in Jamaica (nine times between 1994 and 2015) and Trinidad & Tobago (2011 & ’13) – and also finished on the podium in all three for two straight seasons (2012 & ’13).
Before the huge accident in Sol RB19 which all but destroyed his ex-Marcus Gronholm Ford Focus WRC06, Panton had a 100 per cent finishing record in his 14 previous visits to Rally Barbados, although he failed to start the Super Special at the Vaucluse Raceway in 2004, when lying fifth, and was excluded from the overall results. He has four King of the Hill victories to his credit, one shared with Simon Jean-Joseph, and was the BRC’s Champion Driver in 2017 & ’18.
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.