Character-building weekend for Barbados crews in Rally Trinidad

Fresh from an encouraging debut in his recently-acquired ex-Marcus Gronholm Ford Focus WRC06, Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton is fired up for his tarmac debut in the car on Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10). With regular co-driver Mike Fennell Jnr, he finished second to local hero John Powell’s Subaru Impreza WRC S14 on the tough loose-surface stages of last weekend’s Rally Trinidad.

Winner of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event in 1998 in a Toyota Celica GT4, Panton is the only driver to have won the ‘Big Three’ in regional rallying, the gravel events in Jamaica and Trinidad and the closed-road tarmac event in Barbados. Six times the winner at home between 1994 and 2008, Panton ticked the final box in Trinidad last year in an ex-Colin McRae Focus WRC00.

Driven to victory in the 2007 Galway International Rally by double WRC Champion Gronholm, Panton’s new Focus, which is run by Dom Buckley Motorsport, arrived in the Caribbean only days before RT12. Backed by Total Lubricants, he drove it for the first time last Thursday: “As expected, it was a steep learning curve for us with a new car, but I think we climbed it rather quickly . . . just not enough! John drove like a true champion this weekend, his consistency and pace since Rally Jamaica have been staggering, with a level of maturity that will see many more victories.”

On the Caribbean ‘tour’, Panton has the best record – eight wins across the region – but it is not the success that drives him: “The cameraderie and friendships between us just simply make doing these rallies worth it, win, lose or draw. We are still trying to obtain sponsorship for Rally Barbados and it will be another steep learning curve on tarmac but, if I have half as much fun as I did in Rally Trinidad, it will all be good!”

Confirmation of Panton’s entry has delighted Powell: “Jeffrey will be a formidable competitor in Barbados and Jamaica. I did not expect him to come to grips with his new Focus so quickly, and that is testament to the fact that he is still one of the best – if not the best – rally drivers to ever come out of the Caribbean.”
Panton’s entry posted on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.bb, brings to a record 11 the entries in Modified 8-WRC, also a record number of ex-works cars. He is the fourth winner to confirm his entry in the class after local drivers Paul Bourne, Roger Skeete and Sean Gill, who won as co-driver to Ireland’s Kenny McKinstry in 1996.

One former winner not listed is Jamaican Gary Gregg, who won in his ex-Carlos Sainz Focus WRC02 in 2006, and that is a source of regret for Panton: “We just need someone to convince Gary to come . . . I’ve grown accustomed to travelling and competing as a team and it won’t be the same without him!” Powell agrees: “Rally Barbados would not be the same without Gary there, and I really hope he changes his mind.”

Character-building weekend for Barbados crews in Rally Trinidad

After leading all three four-wheel-drive classes in the early stages of Rally Trinidad last weekend (March 30-April 1), Barbados Rally Club (BRC) members endured a series of character-building disappointments, none more so than Sean Gill and Michael Cummins (Suzuki SX4 WRC), who rolled into retirement, having led much of the event.

With six wins on the 11 stages on Friday and Saturday, Gill carried a comfortable lead into Sunday, although re-seeding put him first on the road, ‘sweeping’ the gravel stages a costly disadvantage. On home ground, John Powell/Nicholas Telfer (Subaru Impreza WRC S14) assumed the lead on stage 17. With four stages to go, Gill rolled – both he and Cummins were uninjured – promoting Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton/Mike Fennell Jnr (Ford Focus WRC06) and Gary Gregg/Hugh Hutchinson (Focus WRC05) to the podium.

After Gill’s accident, Powell said: “Sean is the kind of driver that rarely puts a wheel wrong, but this goes to show the level of commitment that each of the top drivers have to display now in order to win. He is a tough competitor and a true sportsman.”

In Group A, early leaders James Betts/Geoff Goddard of Barbados (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V) retired late on Saturday with a combination of mechanical issues, while Trevor Manning and Derek Edwards, who had led Group N in Powell’s generously-loaned Evo X, were unable to rejoin after an ‘off’.

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

Photos by Gerrard Wilson Photograph/trinituner.com

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