Jamaica’s Jeff Panton is the new leader of the R5 Rally Championship presented by First Citizens after winning round seven, the Rally of the Sun & Stars on Saturday (September 9). With reigning champion and points-leader Stuart Maloney in action only as co-driver to his brother Mark after his own car had been sold days before the event, Panton turned a seven-point deficit in to a 13-point lead in the Barbados Motoring Federation’s (BMF) flagship national championship with three rounds to go.
With co-driver Michael Fennell Jnr, Panton won four of the afternoon’s six stages in his Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo, building a nine-second cushion which allowed him time to be cautious in the dark after an incident on the second night stage nearly ended his rally. Fellow-countryman Kyle Gregg (Ford Fiesta Rally2) won four of the night stages, losing out by just four seconds, with Josh Read (Fiesta R5) third, another 10secs adrift.
Starting from the Service Park at Greenland, St Andrew, the daylight route for the Motoring Club Barbados Inc’s (MCBI) premier event alternated between stages at Lamberts to Church Hill (4.6 kilometres) and Orange Hill to Indian Ground (3.1km), run three times each, with the route reversed once night fell.
Buoyed by claiming his first overall win for two years in the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) Double-Header Sprint last month, Panton was fastest on the first three stages, clean and tidy everywhere, while his opponents were experiencing a raft of problems. With local co-driver Orry Hunte, Gregg won the fourth stage, but suffered three punctures during the afternoon, leaving him third at the dinner halt.
Britain’s Rob Swann (Fabia R5) was 3secs in front of Gregg but had also had a difficult afternoon: co-driver James Hutchinson was taken ill after two stages and replaced by Rene Forde who settled into the task quickly, Swann second fastest on the final two daylight stages. Slowed by a misfire on the opening stage, Josh Read (Fiesta R5) was fourth, pleased with the performance of his first-time co-driver Calem Maloney, who he said was: “sharp with the timekeeping and helped to keep things stable with the important things outside of driving; he was a big help.”
Enjoying having his experienced brother guiding him through the stages and offering a few tips – Rally Barbados 2007 was one of Stuart’s 11 victories with Paul Bourne – Mark Maloney (Fabia Rally2 evo) had recovered to fifth, winning the final daylight stage, after a puncture on the opening stage cost him around 12secs, placing him last of the R5s.
With light pods mounted, the crews headed out into the night, Panton quickest on the first reverse run through Sailor Gully; Gregg moved up to second place, more than 3secs quicker than Swann, with Maloney and Read also quicker than the Brit.
Read won the night’s first run through Lamberts, as drama befell leader Panton, who explained: “I didn’t allow for the gravel from the afternoon runs and we went sideways up and over a mound of dirt, I really thought it was over. I thought two wheels were off but when I dipped the clutch the car moved. We lost some time obviously but had a healthy lead and took it extra cautious after that, even if it meant losing some stages.”
And lose stages he did. Gregg won the remaining four, although it was not enough to pass his fellow-Jamaican after losing time with the afternoon punctures: “We clawed back some time into the night, but we tried to keep it on the road because everything looks so much different and faster in the night. With the time lost it would’ve been hard to catch Jeffrey, as he had a good lead, so we are happy with P2.”
On the second run through Lamberts, now back into second ahead of Gregg, Swann’s rally ended: “I braked earlier than I normally would, but we went on gravel and the car just took off and we bounced up into the tree area. We drove back to service but lost so much time that it didn’t make much sense to continue.” Gregg was therefore second again, where he would finish the day, ahead of Read and the Brothers Maloney.
Roger Hill and Graham Gittens (Fabia R5) finished fifth, with the Turks and Caicos Rally Team’s Paul Horton sixth, with local co-driver Barry Ward. Another having a tough day, Horton’s Citroen C3 Rally2 felt down on power and he also had punctures: “On the second Sailor Gully stage, we struck a rock in the road which broke the rim and pitched us both ways; we were lucky to save the car as I thought we were toast.”
Andrew Mallalieu and Geoff Goddard (Fiesta R5) retired after SS8 with over-heating problems, while Suleman Esuf and Asif Suleman completed only three afternoon stages before retiring the Fabia Rally2 evo acquired from Stuart Maloney only days before.