“The hardest I’ve ever driven since I started rallying”

At his fifth attempt, former UK National Rally Champion Paul Bird finally won Sol Rally Barbados at the weekend (June 9/10), describing the experience as “the hardest and probably the best I’ve ever driven since I started rallying.” With a record 99 crews from 15 nations participating in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International, the organising Barbados Rally Club is celebrating another successful event.

After the results were made final yesterday afternoon, ‘Birdy’ and Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick received their trophies from the Hon Richard Sealy, Minister of Tourism, at a packed Prizegiving at The Boatyard on the outskirts of the island’s capital, Bridgetown. They also won Modified 8-WRC, were highest-placed overseas four-wheel-drive crew, and the highest-placed crew including a female.

Also on hand to present trophies were Sol Barbados Country Manager, Ezra Prescod, and Ireland’s Kris Meeke, who won the event in 2008 & ’09, with Bird finishing second on his first two visits. Over the past two years, he has finished third behind local aces Roger Skeete and Paul Bourne.

This year, it was Bird’s turn to prevail in his Ford Focus WRC08, leading home two former winners – the other podium finishers were second-placed Bourne (Focus WRC07) and Jamaica’s Jeff Panton (Focus WRC06) – with his old friend and rival, Britain’s Steve Perez (Focus WRC07) fourth, in a remarkable result for the ex-works Fords.

Speaking at the finish, Bird said: “It’s been tough. I make it difficult for myself – I had a spin yesterday – but I must thank the guys here for pushing me so hard, and Neil at Dom Buckley Motorsport for his ideas about the suspension. Having come so close so many times in the past makes this so special and it took a huge effort to pull it off.”

Fastest on Saturday’s opening stage, Bird was the event’s first leader, but a spin at the end of stage three cost him at least 15 seconds, dropping him back to eighth, the lost time compounded by a double puncture a few stages later. Twelve-time winner Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC S12) assumed the lead, edging further ahead until early afternoon, when he retired with terminal transmission issues.

The consistent Sean Gill (Suzuki SX4 WRC) became the event’s third leader, despite failing to claim any stage wins, while Bird had added another five to his total, to lie just 2.3 seconds behind Gill overnight; Bourne, Perez and Panton were also still within striking distance. The re-start, with cars seeded in order of overnight classification, promised the closest day two fight in the event’s history: never before had as many as five cars been covered by as small as margin as 16secs on Sunday morning.

With the first of his five stage wins of the day, Bird retook the lead on the opening LIME Kendal test, albeit it by just half-a-second. Bourne was also closing in on Gill – he took second with a stage win on the next Kendal – and was now within 5secs of Bird, who retaliated on the second Sol Stewarts Hill, adding another 2.4secs to the margin.

On the last stage before lunch, Gill’s rally came to an end when a sudden loss of power was accompanied by smoke from the engine, and he shut down. Bird and Bourne were swapping times stage by stage, but then a belt slipped on Bourne’s engine, causing some overheating, and costing time, leaving him 16secs behind the leader with two stages to go . . . literally, the first chance all weekend for Bird to almost relax! Bourne said: “Even without that, I wasn’t going to catch Paul, and I’m happy with the result.”

Behind the titanic struggle for the lead, Perez and Panton had been enjoying a battle of their own, rarely more than a couple of seconds apart, until Panton really charged, winning the last two stages to guarantee a podium finish in his first tarmac event with his recently-acquired Focus, leaving Perez fourth . . . for the fourth time.

Fifth, and highest-placed 2wd for the second year in a row was Neil Armstrong (Toyota Starlet), who slipped outside the top 10 stage times only once, on Saturday’s final stage, when a steering issue created when he had a small ‘off’ earlier in the day was becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

Second-time visitor from the UK Roger Duckworth (Impreza WRC) improved by one place to finish sixth, ahead of Rob Swann, who was delighted with a top 10 finish, after having had no chance to test his upgraded Impreza before arriving in the island: “From 18th in King of the Hill to seventh here is a good result.”

Three more 2wds completed the top 10: Josh Read was eighth (and the only one to beat Armstrong) in his revamped Starlet, ahead of the shared cars of brothers Barry and Roger Mayers (Starlet) and Logan and Rhett Watson (BMW M3).

Apart from Bird, Perez, Swan and Duckworth in the top 10, International visitors fared well, with four class wins and 10 more podium finishes. Winners were England’s Stuart Deeley (Modified 5 Nissan Micra) and Tim Pearcey (Historic Ford Escort) – both on their first visits – while returnees Holland’s Frans Verbaas (Group B Mini Cooper S) claimed his second Barbados win and Gary Thomas (Clubman Historic Escort) from Wales his first.

Podium finishers were newcomers Martin Donnelly (P4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), Joe McQuillan (M8-A Evo VII) and Matt Shinnors (SM9 Escort) from Ireland, along with England’s Rob Weir (M8-A Impreza), while South Africa’s Geoff Bell (Historic Escort), Ireland’s Peter Gallagher (M5 Talbot Samba) and British drivers Ding Boston (Historic Alfa Romeo), Andrew Costin-Hurley (GpB Ford Puma), Martin Stockdale (SM11 BMW M3 Compact) and Simon Wallis (P4 Impreza N10) all added to their existing trophy haul.

Panton was the only regional driver to finish, after all three cars from Trinidad retired: potential front-runner John Powell (Impreza WRC S14) broke a shock absorber on the opening stage, Group N contender Stuart Johnson (Impreza N12) had an accident later on day one, while Vishal Dhanraj (Opel Corsa) dropped out late on Sunday afternoon.

The record 99 crews (the previous best was 90) contested 14 classes: just under 40 drivers set stage-winning times, and no winner of a contested class can claim a perfect set of stage wins, except the Mayers brothers, but they shared the driving . . . and all of this action was played out in front of upwards of 20,000 spectators, who lined the weekend’s five venues for the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International.

Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) and Sol Go Further/Scotiabank King of the Hill (June 3) were organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group. Marketing partners were 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.

SOL RALLY BARBADOS 2012
Results

Key to nationalities (competitor from Barbados unless shown): ENG – England; IRL – Republic of Ireland; JAM – Jamaica; NED – The Netherlands; NIR – Northern Ireland; RSA – South Africa; SCO – Scotland; WAL – Wales

1st Paul Bird – ENG/Kirsty Riddick – SCO (M8-WRC Ford Focus WRC08), 1m 02m 50.60s
2nd Paul Bourne/Megan Bryant (M8-WRC Ford Focus WRC07), 1h 03m 02.65s
3rd Jeffrey Panton – JAM/Michael Fennell Jnr – JAM (M8-WRC Ford Focus WRC06), 1h 03m 17.66s
4th Steve Perez – ENG/Paul Spooner – WAL (M8-WRC Ford Focus WRC07), 1h 03m 24.95s
5th Neil Armstrong/Barry Ward (SM10 Toyota Starlet), 1h 05m 10.34s
6th Roger Duckworth – ENG/Aled Davies – WAL (M8-WRC Subaru Impreza WRC), 1h 05m 43.25s
7th Rob Swann – ENG/Darren Garrod – WAL (M8-WRC Subaru Impreza), 1h 06m 48.70s
8th Josh Read/Mark Jordan (SM10 Toyota Starlet), 1h 07m 08.67s
9th Roger Mayers/Barry Mayers (SM9 WR Starlet), 1h 07m 32.20s
10th Logan Watson/Rhett Watson (SM11 BMW M3), 1h 07m 53.31s
11th Brian Gill/Heath Hazell (SM11 BMW M3), 1h 08m 24.90s
12th Geoff Noel/Kreigg Yearwood (P4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), 1h 08m 31.41s
13th Daryl Clarke/Russell Brancker (M7 Honda Civic), 1h 09m 36.18s
14th Neil Corbin/Matthew Staffner (M6 Toyota Starlet), 1h 10m 29.37s
15th Ralph White/Joe Troulan (SM10 Toyota Starlet), 1h 10m 38.74s
16th Avinash Chatrani/Martin Goddard (M8-A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI), 1h 11m 16.93s
17th Adrian Linton/Jonathan Linton (M7 Vauxhall Astra SRi), 1h 11m 19.57s
18th Martin Stockdale – ENG/Mark Swallow – ENG (SM11 BMW M3 Compact), 1h 12m 19.82s
19th Tim Pearcey – ENG/Neil Shanks – SCO (Historic Ford Escort RS1800), 1h 12m 22.82s
20th Geoff Bell – RSA/Michael Worme (Historic Ford Escort RS1800), 1h 12m 46.17s
21st Edward Corbin/Rodney Clarke (M7 Toyota Corolla RunX), 1h 13m 08.26s
22nd Martin Donnelly – IRL/Colin Fitzgerald – IRL (P4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), 1h 13m 15.40s
23rd Gary Thomas – WAL/Phil Ralphs – WAL (Club-Hist Ford Escort MkII), 1h 13m 30.08s
24th Jeremy Gonsalves/Chris Corbin (M6 Opel Corsa), 1h 13m 41.44s
25th Carlos Edwards/Andre Waithe (SM9 Toyota Starlet), 1h 14m 23.98s
26th Kyle Catwell/Norman Catwell (M7 Volkswagen Golf GTI), 1h 16m 33.61s
27th Raymond Conlon – IRL/Darren McCague – IRL (SM10 Toyota Corolla), 1h 16m 40.65s
28th Allan Mackay – SCO/Mo Downey – NIR (SM10 Ford Anglia WRC), 1h 16m 56.68s
29th Simon Wallis – ENG/Carolyn Pearce – ENG (P4 Subaru Impreza N10), 1h 17m 25.99s
30th Brendon McKenzie/Sean Collett (M6 Toyota Corolla), 1h 17m 48.04s
31st Matt Shinnors – IRL/Catherine Levis – IRL (SM9 Ford Escort MkII), 1h 17m 50.69s
32nd Conor McMeel – NIR/Sean Devlin – NIR (SM10 Ford Escort MkII), 1h 18m 30.52s
33rd Freddie Gale/Kyle Proverbs (M7 Toyota Corolla RunX), 1h 18m 40.53s
34th Rob Weir – ENG/Ross Weir – ENG (M8-WRC Subaru Impreza), 1h 20m 45.74s
35th Stuart Deeley – ENG/Alistair Dodd – ENG (M5 Nissan Micra), 1h 21m 48.43s
36th Stuart McChlery/Julian Goddard (Club-Hist Ford Escort MkI), 1h 22m 35.11s
37th Jeremy Croney/Damien Johnson (Clubman Peugeot 206), 1h 23m 48.95s
38th Ding Boston – ENG/Jon Pulliston – ENG (Historic Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTV), 1h 25m 08.43s
39th Shannon Kirton/Lisa Roett (Clubman Datsun 120Y), 1h 26m 18.11s
40th Joe McQuillan – NIR/Gene McDonald – NIR (M8-A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII), 1h 26m 55.59s
41st Fabien Clarke/Arlington Hoyte (P2 Suzuki Ignis Sport), 1h 27m 46.65s
42nd Sean Field/Darnley Rayside (M7 Peugeot 306 GTi6), 1h 27m 49.13s
43rd Peter Gallagher – IRL/Rene Forde (M5 Talbot Samba), 1h 28m 32.86s
44th Allan Maynard/Marcus Beck (SM9 Toyota Starlet), 1h 29m 59.70s
45th Martin Taylor – IRL/Eddie Taylor – IRL (M6 Proton Satria), 1h 31m 16.95s
46th Stuart White/Jason O’Neal (Club-Hist BMW 325), 1h 37m 40.82s

Highest-placed regional crew: Panton – JAM/Fennell – JAM (3rd overall)
Highest-placed international crew: Bird – ENG/Riddick – SCO (1st overall)
Highest-placed female competitor: Riddick (1st overall, co-driver for Bird)

Starters: 99 (64 Barbados, 29 International, 6 Regional)
Overall finishers: 46 (26 Barbados, 19 International, 1 Regional)

Overall Two-wheel-drive: 1st Armstrong/Ward; 2nd Read/Jordan; 3rd Mayers/Mayers; 4th L Watson/R Watson; 5th Gill/Hazell; 6th Clarke/Brancker; 7th Corbin/Staffner; 8th White/Troulan; 9th Linton/Linton; 10th Stockdale – ENG/Swallow – ENG; etc

Class results
Modified 8-WRC: 1st Bird – ENG/Riddick – SCO; 2nd Bourne/Bryan; 3rd Panton – JAM/Fennell Jnr – JAM; etc
M8-A: 1st Chatrani/Goddard; 2nd Weir – ENG/Weir – ENG; 3rd McQuillan – NIR/McDonald – NIR
P4: 1st Noel/Yearwood; 2nd Donnelly – IRL/Fitzgerald – IRL; 3rd Wallis – ENG/Pearce -ENG
Group B (not eligible for overall position): 1st Frans Verbaas – NED/Carina van Westen – NED (Mini Cooper S), 1h 12m 30.78s; 2nd Harold Morley – ENG/Graeme Finlayson – SCO (Porsche RSR GT3 Rally), 1h 14m 31.56s; 3rd Andrew Costin-Hurley – ENG/Shaun Mellett – ENG (Ford Puma), 1h 14m 44.90s; etc
SM11: 1st Watson/Watson; 2nd Gill/Hazell; 3rd Stockdale – ENG/Swallow – ENG; etc
SM10: 1st Armstrong/Ward; 2nd Read/Jordan; 3rd White/Troulan; etc
SM9: 1st Mayers/Mayers; 2nd Edwards/Waithe; 3rd Shinnors – IRL/Levis – IRL; etc
Historic: 1st: Pearcey – ENG/Shanks – SCO; 2nd Bell – RSA/Worme; 3rd Boston – ENG; Pulliston – ENG
Clubman Historic: 1st Thomas – WAL/Ralphs – WAL; 2nd McChlery/Goddard; 3rd White/OO’Neal
M7: 1st Clarke/Brancker; 2nd Linton/Linton; 3rd Corbin/Clarke; etc
M6: 1st Corbin/Staffner; 2nd Gonsalves/C Corbin; 3 McKenzie/Collett; etc
M5: 1st Deeley – ENG/Dodd – ENG; 2nd Gallagher – IRL/Forde
P2: 1st Clarke/Hoyte
Clubman: 1st Croney/Johnson; 2nd Kirton/Roett

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

Paul Bird/Kirsty Riddick, winners of Sol Rally Barbados 2012 . . .
Photo by Sean Chandler/vtcaribbean.com

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