Confirmation since March 4 how Britain’s Tom Preston will campaign his Hippo Group/Sterling Automotive Ford Fiesta Rally2 in Sol Rally Barbados 2022 brings the entry in the growing FIA R5 class to five, with the final total almost certain to be in double figures for the first time. 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).
He joins five-time winner Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and rising British star Frank Bird in fielding the latest version of the M-Sport Fiesta in the class, while Suleman Esuf will drive his earlier Fiesta R5 and Roger Hill his Skoda Fabia R5. Other entries from the island, the region and further afield are in the pipeline.
Preston has two top 10 finishes to his credit in the island’s premier event, both with Welsh co-driver and 2016 BTRDA Champion Carl Williamson, who will join him again this year. In 2018, they finished ninth overall and won Group A in a Fabia R5 before the FIA R5 class was introduced; in Sol RB19, they improved to fourth overall but were beaten to the new FIA R5 class title by just six seconds by Andy Scott after sharing stage wins in a hard-fought battle throughout the event. On both occasions, Preston drove a Fabia R5, his second since 2016, which was later bought by Stuart Maloney, while Scott’s Fiesta also found a home in the island, with Esuf.
Preston’s first-ever outright victory had come on the Wales Rally GB National Rally in October 2017, co-driven on that occasion by Andrew Roughead, then a second (his first on tarmac) in the 2019 Corbeau Seats Rally Tendring & Clacton, with Williamson.
The Fabia was initially replaced with a Fiesta WRC, in which Preston had a victory and a second place in his first three events in 2019 before a run of mechanical issues, and which he had planned to bring to Rally Barbados; he switched to an R5 last year, retiring from Rallye d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur, before finishing fifth in the MEM Malton Forest Rally, his first outing on gravel in the Rally2. The Grizedale Stages, which Preston was looking forward to for more seat time in the new car, was postponed from December because of the damage caused by Storm Arwen in the Britain’s northern forests, then cancelled in January through lack of entries and he has tackled only two events so far this year. In the Riponian Stages, he was placed third, but rolled two stages from home; last Sunday (February 28), he was fifth at lunch in the first closed-road rally run in Yorkshire, the East Riding Stages, but retired with mechanical dramas on the first afternoon stage.
Before Sol RB18, Preston had previously competed in the island in 2003, the first year that the former International All-Stage Rally was renamed Rally Barbados, although he was not an overall finisher in his Group N Subaru Impreza. Since the disruption caused by the pandemic, Preston has missed the opportunity to travel, particularly as he enjoys combining his passions for spending time with family, friends . . . and rallying. On Sunday, he said: “We have really missed Barbados, so we’re glad its all on again. We’ve got a group of about 30 coming out and we’re all really looking forward to it.”