International entries approaching record numbers

Two of the most successful British visitors to the Caribbean in recent years, Paul Bird and Rob Swann, have confirmed their entries for Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) through the event’s official web site, www.rallybarbados.bb. Entered for the fifth consecutive year, both have also become regular visitors to the island for family holidays outside rally season.

Their entries bring to four the cars now confirmed by the organising Barbados Rally Club (BRC) for the Modified 8-WRC category, with a number of other entries from home and abroad known to be intending to fight for overall honours in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international.

After Ulstermen Kenny McKinstry and Kris Meeke, each of whom has won the island’s premier event twice, ‘Birdy’ has comfortably the best record of any European visitor; he finished second to Meeke, the margin around 17secs each time, in 2008 (Subaru Impreza WRC S9) and ’09 (Ford Focus WRC07), then third for the last two years in his Focus WRC08 with Scotland’s Kirsty Riddick, now his regular co-driver.

ANCRO National Rally Champion in 2005, Bird started his 2012 campaign with a fourth straight win on the Jack Frost Stages at the Croft racing circuit in the north of England two weeks ago. He said: “It’s great to win this event for a record-breaking fourth time, especially as I’ve not driven the car on tarmac since Rally Barbados last June. The opening couple of stages were not perfect by any means, but once I got into my stride, everything started flowing and we got vital testing time with the car.”

Bird is contesting the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship this season, his first attempt at a tarmac series; before that starts, his next outing in the Frank Bird Poultry/Fuchs Titan Race Focus is this weekend’s Legend Fires North West Stages, where he is seeded at number two, behind last year’s winner, another successful Barbados visitor, Kevin Procter, co-driven by Dave Bellerby in his Impreza WRC S7.

Swann and Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod, fifth in Sol RB11 in a rented Impreza WRC S12, face a new challenge, as the Revolution Wheels/Waves Hotel Impreza N14 in which they won Group N in both Barbados and Jamaica in 2010 – the only crew to have done so – is undergoing a major upgrade at TEG Sport in England.

Swann explains: “The WRC hire option was not possible due to a lack of cars so, with future events in mind, I decided to build a B13 spec Impreza. My prodrive N14 is being stripped to a bare shell, lightened, then dipped and re-sprayed. The engine will be WRC build spec, with a six-speed sequential gearbox, active centre diff and programmeable diff controller. I have tested a similar car built by TEG and feel with some of the upgrades we are fitting to ours, it will be very competitive . . . and a lot of fun!”

The build should be complete by the end of March, followed by a tarmac test programme and entry on the Circuit of Ireland at the beginning of April for a final shakedown before sailing to Barbados: “Simple as that,” smiles Swann. Since his last visit, he is proud to have claimed his maiden overall rally win, on last November’s SA Gas Premier Rally, a forest event in the British Midlands.

International entries approaching record numbers

Of the 80 entries for Sol Rally Barbados 2012 that have been posted on the official web site (www.rallybarbados.bb), 27 are from International crews; adding the prize packages offered to the winners of the 2011 Roger Albert Clark Rally and 2012 Rallye Sunseeker National in the UK brings the total to 29, which equals the highest-ever European turn-out for the island’s premier event in 2003.

Sol RB12 Chairman Barry Gale said: “We are only just into February and we’re now less than 20 away from our entry ceiling of 100 cars. I am aware of three or four more overseas cars that are making serious plans to come, and I am also getting enquiries pretty much every other day, either directly, or through the web site.

“I realise that there is scope for one or two to drop out, as happened last year, but in the current climate, this sort of response is nothing short of remarkable.”

Sol Rally Barbados and Shell V-Power King of the Hill are organised 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

Paul Bird/Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC08) winning the Jack Frost Stages in the UK on January 22, 2012 | Photo by Tony Todd

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