Winner of Sol Rally Barbados in 2008 & ’09, Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke has confirmed that he will return to the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International this year to revisit the event that he once described as “the best 10 days of my life”.

His victories in the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event were not without their challenges: in the first year, a propshaft snapped on the startline of Sunday’s first stage, leaving him with a two-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla WRC for the rest of the day. The next year, his shakedown time was limited to one practice run in the previous weekend’s Shell V-Power King of the Hill by a clutch problem on the Subaru Impreza WRC S9.

Meeke’s second win in Barbados was achieved mid-way through his title-winning debut campaign in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) and was sandwiched between two of his four IRC wins that season, in Portugal and Belgium. Comparing winning in the Caribbean with his ‘day job’ as Peugeot UK’s driver in the IRC, Meeke said at the time: “In the IRC, I get a real sense of satisfaction when I get home for a job well done, but in Barbados I actually enjoy it while I’m doing it.”

After a second season in the IRC, in which he finished third, Meeke was selected to join the newly-formed prodrive-run MINI World Rally Championship team in 2011, for which his best result was fourth place in his home event, Wales Rally GB. The team was restructured just before the start of this season, however, which has resulted in his driving options being limited.

Entry list being fine-tuned ahead of island’s premier event

As more than 100 crews prepare for the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International and the premier event on the Barbados Motoring Federation’s (BMF) calendar, last-minute changes are being confirmed daily to the provisional entry list:

+ Holland’s Frans Verbaas, who is returning for his sixth visit to the island will no longer be co-driven by fellow-countryman Kees Hagman. Verbaas reports: “Kees was in hospital for 16 days after he broke his back in a rally crash. He is OK now, and walking, but no rally for Kees this year . . . and no aeroplane!” His place in the spectacular Group B Mini Cooper S will be taken by experienced Dutch co-driver Carina van Weston, whose entry brings to 27 the number of newcomers to the event from outside the Caribbean

+ combined with Christina Brandford being confirmed as the replacement co-driver for local driver Rommell Martin (Toyota Starlet), Westen’s entry means the total of female competitors has now risen to 14, one driver and 13 co-drivers, seven of whom are Internationals new to the event

+ Trinidad & Tobago’s Stuart Johnson will no longer have fellow-countryman Lee Quesnel as co-driver in his Production 4 (Group N) Subaru Impreza N10, in the latest confirmed change; instead, old school friend, Barbados restaurateur Chris Hoad, will be in the hot seat, as he was last year

+ that is not the only mixed crew in P4. BMF President Andrew Mallalieu’s co-driver in his N10 will be Welshman Aled Edwards, on his second visit to the island, having sat with Barbados-based ex-pat Brit Harold Morley last year. Mallalieu said: “I am looking forward to some training from a professional co-driver in pace note preparation – even if not in driving.”

+ Mallalieu returned to the sport last year after a lay-off, as Martin Atwell is doing this year. His father Mike was a 1970s circuit-racing Champion, so competition was in the blood; from an early age, racing BMX bikes and karts, he progressed to cars, first dexterities then sprints, followed by some circuit racing – a hat-trick winner in his first race meet at Bushy Park in 1994 – and eventually rallies, winning his class in the BRC Championship in 1996. Since then, he has combined big game fishing with occasional motor sport outings, most recently sharing Graeme Finlayson’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III. Although his BMW M3 arrived in the island only recently, Atwell is undaunted: “I am looking forward to mixing it with the guys in SM11. Despite being very rusty, and never having driven a heavy, relatively-powerful rear-wheel-drive car before, I should have a good time, and that is all this should really be about.”

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.

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

Photo: Kris Meeke at Sol Rally Barbados 2009 by Himal Reece/justbajan.com

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