SOL RALLY BARBADOS TO START AT VAUCLUSE RACEWAY
British Escort trio boosts growing Historic class
“When the flag drops, the talking stops”, a motor sport adage crews competing in Sol Rally Barbados 2018 will be reminded of on Friday, June 1, when they will leave the Ceremonial Start at the Vaucluse Raceway (VRW) and drive straight in to the opening stage on the RallySprint track. It marks the first time that the St Thomas venue – a regular location for rally finishes over the years – has played host to the start.
A little under 48 hours later, having passed through nine of the island’s 11 parishes, the surviving crews will face an extended Bushy Park Barbados stage on Sunday afternoon to bring the 29th edition of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) blue riband event to a close. The St Philip facility will once again host Rally Central, the ‘home-away-from-home’ for overseas crews.
Sol RB18 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 1-3, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill (KotH) the previous weekend, May 26/27. Since entries opened on the official web site - www.rallybarbados.net – on October 1 last year, more than 70 have been posted, with just under two months to go before entries close in early May.
Event organiser Neil Barnard explains: “As we start to plan the route each year, there is always an urge to come up with something different, as we want to keep the challenge fresh and try to maintain a level playing field between the locals and the visitors. Last year’s two Friday night stages in the north of the island were a big hit with the drivers, even those who didn’t do so well in the dark, but the unexpected mass of spectators created a number of issues with the travelling public, so a repeat was not an option.
“In November’s Winter Rally, we used Vaucluse on the Friday night for something similar to what we plan for Sol Rally Barbados and it was very popular with competitors. Not just local crews, but regular visitors like Jamaica’s Jeff Panton, Paul Bird and Rob Swann from the UK, who all gave it the ‘thumbs up’.”
While the BRC is still fine-tuning the logistics, crews will pass over the purpose-built ramp first seen at Sol Warrens last year for a short interview, then set off in head-to-head pairs on the RallySprint track, although they will cover two complete laps of the figure-of-eight three-kilometre facility, rather than the usual one. Given the current entry level and allowing for local and regional entries yet to register on-line, organisers are estimating a starters’ list upwards of 90 cars, making for around four hours of entertainment for fans on Friday evening.
VRW is the third venue to be used since the Friday night start was introduced for Sol RB14; the first three years were at Bushy Park, the initial single-stage format increased to two stages in 2015 and ’16, before the night stages in the north last year. Bushy Park will still play a key role in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International, Rally Central a hive of activity in the two weeks around KotH and Sol RB18. In addition to providing a storage and service facility, which accommodates most international and some regional competitors, it also provides support services for teams, particularly newcomers.
British Escort trio boosts growing Historic class
Three drivers from the British Midlands, with seven previous visits to Sol Rally Barbados between them, are currently fettling their Ford Escorts in readiness to do battle in the over 1600cc Historic class in Sol RB18. It will be the first time Raymond Clough, Sean Kukula and Chris Shooter have gone head-to-head – Shooter was absent when Kukula paid his only visit in 2016 – and they will have more than just one another to worry about, as the class looks set to be one of the best-supported this year. Already confirmed is fellow-Brit, newcomer John Faulkner (MkII Escort), while Wayne Archer (BMW 325) currently leads the ‘home team’.
Clough admits that the “usual annual prep for Barbados is a wash and polish” for his MkI Escort, sponsored last year by Weber Construction Materials, Frank Key Builders Merchants and CCF Builders Merchants. For Sol RB18, however, a gearbox rebuild, new clutch and renewed suspension are under way, and Clough says: “There’s lots of other bits being done to improve the rallying experience, especially for Jason Tindale, my service crew.”
A former sponsor of Barbados regular Martin Stockdale, Clough returned to rallying in 2015, having taken a long break after first competing in the late 1970s. He has been an overall finisher on each of his three visits, with 27th and the Historic 2 class win in Sol RB16 his best result, achieved with local co-driver Stephen Bell, who sits with him again this year.
Shooter and his partner Bev LeGood won the class (then called International Historic) on their first visit in the Sparrow Hill Cars MkII in 2014, finishing 28th overall. Once regulars in the British Historic Rally Championship – they won their class in 2008 and the Shekhar Mehta ‘Spirit of Rallying’ Award the following year - they now limit their rallying to a handful of events which, last October, included the Jersey Rally, in which they finished 21st. LeGood says: “It was brilliant, but also unearthed a few issues with the car. It was time for lots of Escort TLC, so it is currently at Major Motorsport being prepared for Sol RB18.”
Like Shooter, Kukula’s co-driver is also his partner, Emma Arthur, who will be hoping for a good finish to help celebrate her birthday on the Sunday of Sol RB18. When they contested Sol RB16, their MkII had undergone a ground-up rebuild, having last been rallied in 1997 . . . and it was worth it, as they finished 38th overall and second in H2 behind Clough, despite a broken alternator wire making the night stages difficult and the fact that it was Arthur’s first-ever pacenote rally (“Big smiles all round”, as Kukula said afterwards). The car is sponsored by Competition Supplies Ltd, Lifeline Motorsport Systems, WOSPerformance, Tilton Engineering, DMD Motorsport Engineering, Odyssey Batteries and Cobra Seats.
Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB18 marks the 11th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the third by communications provider Flow.