While the battle for the podium places in Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) will almost certainly be the preserve of the best WRC entry in the event’s history – nine ex-works cars among a total four-wheel-drive entry of 23 – spectators will not have to look too far down the top 10 to find the highest-placed two-wheel-drive crew.
With short, twisting stages, many with little chance for 4wd cars to stretch their legs, giant-killing acts are commonplace in Barbados – fans still talk about Barry Mayers finishing fourth overall in a Toyota Starlet in 2005; before that, the best 2wd result was in 1997, when Roger Skeete (Peugeot 306 S16) claimed the sixth of his 12 wins and Sean Gill (Opel Corsa) was third.
Even with the recent influx of World Cars, they and the other 4wds have only once (2009) locked out the overall top 10. Gill (twice) and Ian Warren have each driven the Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift well inside the top 10 in recent years, while Neil Armstrong and Josh Read (Starlets) were sixth and ninth respectively last year.
The early part of the local season has offered few clues, thanks to the key players each missing at least one event, but it is clear that Armstrong and Warren will again be at the sharp end. At the Valvoline Shakedown Stages (V-SS), Skeete’s Subaru Impreza WRC S12 was the only car Armstrong did not beat at least once and he led two-wheel-drive all day, despite minor brake issues.
Warren was absent, as engine work in the UK was not completed in time and fans are hoping for a repeat of Sol RB11, when he and Armstrong traded times stage after stage, until a Sunday ‘off’ (no fault of Warren’s) brought the battle to an end.
Stuart Maloney (Peugeot 306 Maxi) and Roger Mayers, who shares the driving of a ‘WR Starlet’ with brother Barry, will also be in the frame; all are successful circuit racers – Maloney and Mayers R won the Caribbean Motor Racing Championship in 2008 and 2011 respectively – and ran second and third to Armstrong in the V-SS.
Read will have his new Starlet engine, while others ready to goad the 4wds include Brett Clarke’s neat Citroen C2 (another with a new engine), the Renault Clio of James Betts, who won Group B last year, with brothers Owen and Sammy Cumberbatch, Brian Gill, Logan Watson and Alex Whitehead the likely front-runners among the local BMWs.
The overseas challenge is led by Martin Stockdale – back for his 12th trip this year, now with his BMW M3 Compact – who finished ninth 2wd last year, and a number of Ireland’s top 2wd crews. Among them is Ulsterman Ronan Curley, who describes his SM11 Escort as “ultimate Irish tarmac specification”, and Raymond Conlon (Toyota Corolla), whose best results include third overall, class winner, on both the 2008 Ulster National and the Circuit of Ireland National in 2010.
Ten-day voyage across the Atlantic . . . and it’s still raining!
Ten days after leaving Britain, the Geest Line freighter Benguela Stream docked at the Bridgetown Port in Barbados last Friday (May 18), carrying a record shipment of rally cars and equipment for Sol Rally Barbados 2012 . . . and the 4,000-mile voyage had made little difference to the weather.
Just as a band of regular British competitors had assisted port handlers with loading the 30 vehicles, despite driving rain at Portsmouth, so a group of Barbados Rally Club members endured almost identical conditions helping unload the shipment.
Over the five hours it took to complete the task, Rally Office Manager Jeanne Crawford and husband Dave were helped by Clive Howell and brothers Logan and Rhett Watson, plus Jeremy Gonsalves and Stuart White, whose new rally cars were also on board.
Sol RB Chairman Barry Gale said: “A big thank-you to the guys who pitched in to help. It is ironic that the weather was the same here as in England – while you don’t really want to push cars around in beating sun, it is no fun at all in pouring rain. Jeanne tells me the cars were coming out of the hold at a pretty rapid pace in the afternoon, so our helpers had no chance to take shelter.”
Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) and Sol Go Further/Scotiabank King of the Hill (June 3) are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group. Marketing partners are Simpson Motors, LIME, Automotive Art, Banks and Karcher; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Tourism Development Corporation, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line and Virgin Atlantic Airways; associate sponsors are Chefette, Climate Control, Field Insurance, Glacial Pure, Little Switzerland, Redline Fuels, Scotiabank and Stoute’s Car Rental.
Photo: Unloading the Benguela Stream in the Bridgetown Port in the rain – in the distance (under the T of GEEST LINE), Barbados Rally Club members push a rally car from the crane’s cradle