Sixty local crews have entered Sol Rally Barbados 2023, the highest number for a decade. In addition to the familiar fan favourites at the sharp end of the overall and 2wd battles, two new-build cars will be seen for the first time, while another two return after many years of inactivity, which the organisers see as an indication that rallying is finally recovering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sol RB23, the 33rd running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, will start with a floodlit SuperSpecial at Bushy Park Barbados on Friday, June 9, with two days of action in the northern and eastern parishes culminating in a daylight SuperSpecial and Rally Finish back at the St Philip facility on Sunday. The Rally Show and First Citizens King of the Hill will be staged on the previous weekend, June 3 & 4.
Rally Director Neil Barnard said: “The number of participants is a fair gauge of the relative health of motorsport on the island. With a local entry of 60 cars I would say that rallying is in pretty good health indeed! What is also amazing is the breadth of those entries across the classes. It bodes well for the stability and future of the sport to have that quantity of active competitors.”
With only three weeks to go before KotH, preparations are in high gear at Ellesmere in St George, where Norman Catwell’s Chicken Pen Racing (CPR) has an exciting new project. The Audi TT-R, which will compete in Modified 4, was built in North Wales, where Catwell has close ties dating back to British engineering ace John Hardman’s early visits to compete in Barbados. Hardman took on the initial build after the project’s originator Shaun Buckley, who had also competed in the island as co-driver for Hardman in 2012, was killed in a tragic road accident in 2019. As Catwell puts it, the 2-litre engine was built “in De Pen”, with the finishing touches now under way.
In another first for the family, Norman’s son and daughter Kyle and Kayleigh will crew the new car, a rallying debut for 18-year-old Kayleigh, who is an accomplished kart racer; like his father, Kyle is an all-rounder – they won their class in Sol RB18 in a Volkswagen Golf GTI, while both have won circuit races at Bushy Park.
Wayne Tasker, who also raced briefly at Bushy Park in a Suzuki Forsa, made his rallying debut in the Shakedown Stages last month, driving the Opel Corsa B first brought to the island in 1998 by Neil Barnard, now Rally Director of Sol RB23. Built in the UK by Harry Hockley, it was campaigned successfully by Barnard and subsequently James Betts for more than 10 years but has been in storage for a long time.
Tasker says: “I built the 1600 eight-valve engine myself and the suspension is all Hockley spec; the car felt good in the Shakedown, but we have made a few upgrades since. With sponsorship, we will be looking to compete in both the BRC and MCBI Championships.” His co-driver is Keenan Barker and they compete in Clubman 1.
Another car not seen recently, this one not since 2015, is the striking orange four-door Ford Escort MkI built and driven in a handful of events by Kurt Ward, previously co-driver to Andrew Jones. Built over a three-year period, it was first seen in a BRC Rally Car Challenge at Bushy Park in July 2014; Ward then entered five events, winning SuperModified 9 twice, including in the 2015 Shakedown Rally, and finished 38th overall and 2nd in SM9 in Sol RB15, after which the car was parked up in a family garage.
As of this week, the Toyota-powered Escort is owned by Jason Cozier, a former class-winner in the Rally Club’s premier event, in a Peugeot 106 Rallye with Stuart White co-driving. In recent years, most of his competition has been as a co-driver, including with Jamaica’s Jeff Panton in both his Ford Fiesta WRC and R5. Cozier is looking forward to KotH and RB23 in SM1, where he will have Brian Gibson as co-driver: “I have always wanted an Escort, and this was an opportunity too good to miss. The car is incredibly well built, just so meticulous, and I must thank Charles Rowe for taking the time to come check it out with me. Now, I’m just looking forward to having some fun!”
Dwane Jackman and Canadian-born wife Michaela will return to the region’s biggest annual motorsport international for the first time since 2010, when their event ended abruptly with a major accident on the Canefield stage. While the safety features of their Volkswagen Golf GTI protected them well enough – as Jackman says: “We were a bit bruised but both of us 90 per cent OK” – the car suffered serious damage. After a long process, including using parts from a donor car, the Golf is finally coming back to life.
Another former co-driver, for Christopher Choat and Tony Pile, Jackman had also tried his hand at driving, including outings at Bushy Park and the Vaucluse Raceway, before he moved to Canada in 2001. After a few years, he revived his interest in rallying there, competing in local events before returning for Sol RB10. A plan to source a car from Europe for Sol RB13 fell through, so the couple decided to take a break from competing: “We have been around rally in a support role, but not competing since. We have done a few track days, and a little bit of karting, but no rallying, so we’re looking forward to it.”