Manx National starts Caribbean countdown for ‘Birdy’

As entries for Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) closed today (May 14), the last first-timers from Ireland were confirmed as Matt Shinnors and Catherine Levis. Asked how he heard about Sol RB12, Shinnors, whose previous experience includes one outing in the World Rally Championship, said: “I was raised on a diet of rallying; you couldn’t but know of one of the ‘Meccas of Rallying’ like Sol Rally Barbados.”

Shinnors started competing in a 2-litre Fiat twincam-powered Ford Escort MkII in autocross events in 1995, then won his class in the Munster AutoX Championship in ’99, before turning to forest rallying with the Escort on its way to Barbados. He was Best Rookie in the 2003 Irish National Forestry Championship, also nominated for the Billy Coleman Award (Irish Young Rally Driver of Year) in ’03 & ’05.

Shinnors’ trip to Barbados will not be his first overseas competition, having already spent time ‘down under’ as a rally tutor, where he enjoyed his one WRC drive: he finished 35th overall in Rally New Zealand 2006 in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI – those ahead of him included Matt Wilson in a Ford Focus subsequently driven by Paul Bird.

Shinnors and Levis finished in the top three in class in the Irish National Forestry Championship in 2010 in the Escort, also the National Night Navigation and Munster Night Navigation championships over last winter in their Vauxhall Astra. Shinnors said: “We ended up joint class winners in the Munster championship, only to lose on a tie breaker. All a good craic! Old-school rallying at night with a simple map! Can’t beat it.”

The Mk II Escort, sponsored by www.vetcar.ie, Ireland’s first ever motoring web site targeting the veterinary profession, was built from a shell for forestry events in 2001; lacking recent tarmac experience, Shinnors contested round four of the Irish Hillclimb Championship in April, where he finished fifth in class of 13 starters.

He said: “The Ballyallaban Hill Climb was an ideal venue to test the Escort in tarmac trim. Having not driving competitively on tarmac since 2004, I was looking forward to the event. Not having Catherine telling me where to go – on the road – was difficult, and adjusting to relying on memory was something different!”

Before becoming co-driver for Shinnors, post-Primary teacher Levis had first competed in 2007, driving a Toyota Corolla with her sister co-driving; by the time she switched sides the following year, she had claimed a class win, and numerous Best Ladies Crew Awards. Co-driving in a Group A Ford Puma with Eamonn McCafferty, Levis also won class titles in the 2009 National, West Coast and Midlands East championships.

Manx National starts Caribbean countdown for ‘Birdy’

Four-time Sol Rally Barbados podium finisher, former UK National Rally Champion Paul Bird, had to settle for second place on the Manx National Rally at the weekend (May 11/12) as he completed preparations for his forthcoming trip to the Caribbean. Winner in 2009 & ’10, ‘Birdy’ was denied a third title by Welshman Melvyn Evans, who claimed his fourth win on the island since 2002.

Driving a Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, Evans had also won the opening round of this year’s REIS/Get Connected MSA Asphalt Rally Championship over the Epynt Ranges – Bird finished sixth on his first visit there – so now leads the title chase with co-driver Aled Davies, who will also be contesting Sol RB12, alongside Roger Duckworth. Bird will miss round three, the Jim Clark Rally, as it clashes with King of the Hill, but Davies will sit with Evans that weekend, then fly to Barbados in time to recce with Duckworth.

With regular Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick in the Frank Bird Poultry/Fuchs-Silkolene Ford Focus WRC08, Bird was 20secs down on Evans overnight, sharing Friday’s eight stage wins equally, despite gearbox problems. Bird drove as hard as he could on Saturday, but couldn’t get the better of Evans – he had a perfect run of 12 stage wins – and had to settle for second, but added vital points to the championship challenge.

Afterwards, Bird said: “I could do nothing about Melvyn this weekend. He simply out-drove me and he deserved the victory. I’m pleased with second place, though, and now I’m looking forward to Sol Rally Barbados next month.”

Sol Rally Barbados and Shell V-Power King of the Hill are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007; Sol RB12 is the 23rd running of the Club’s annual International All-Stage Rally and marks the fifth year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company.

Web sites: www.rallybarbados.bb; www.barbadosrallyclub.com

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