SOL RALLY BARBADOS PROMISES 2WD THRILLER
Clarke targets former winners Mayers, Mayers & Watson
The battle for Two-Wheel-Drive honours in Sol Rally Barbados 2018 looks set to be a thriller for local fans, as at least six potential winners battle second-for-second with one another, while snapping away at the heels of the 4wd cars. The Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, 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.
Over the past decade, in which the 2wd battle has often eclipsed the fight for overall honours, seven drivers have won: Neil Armstrong (2011-‘12), Ian Warren (2010 & ’13) and Rhett Watson (2014-‘15) twice, with single wins for Sean Gill (2008), Barry (2017) and Roger (2016) Mayers, plus Jonathan Still (2009), whose 12th overall marks the only time in the event’s 28-year history that the top 10 included no 2wd cars. Roger’s fourth place matched his younger sibling’s 2005 result as the highest-overall finish since the last outright 2wd victory (Roger Skeete, Peugeot 306 S16) in 1997.
Missing from the roll of honour, and from Sol RB18, is Josh Read, runner-up four times, twice behind Armstrong, then Warren, and again in Sol RB16, 11secs adrift of Roger Mayers, who said this week: “It is sad that we have lost Josh, he pushed me harder than any other driver had in the past.” Watson was another to pay tribute to Read, as “a great competitor at the top of his game. His raw pace will be missed, for sure.”
Despite Read’s absence, Rally Club PRO Neil Barnard anticipates a hard-fought weekend: “Personally, I think this 2wd battle will be very fast and furious from the get-go, but I suspect we will again see reliability and stamina as the key factors. I think the lead will change multiple times throughout the weekend; for instance, if one of the main protagonists has built up a good lead by the end of the first Saturday morning loop, I don’t think he will necessarily be in front by dinner. The fans have a treat in store.”
With Bradley Weekes now the co-driver in his Chefette/Stihl/Gliptone/Leafy Organics/Gunk/Hankook/Bajan Pure Water/It’s Barbados/Power King Batteries in support of Little Pink Gift BMW M3, Watson was top 2wd in last month’s Carter’s Pit-Stop Stages (CP-SS); his plan for Sol RB18 is clear: “Speed in the early to make a point. It’s coming out of the box at maximum attack, then consistency from there; this has worked well for me, winning it twice . . . but its a long, hard rally, anything can happen to anyone.”
Barry Mayers (Chefette/Rubis/Digicel/Hankook/DHL/Illusion Graphics Ford Fiesta) and co-driver Ben Norris have a similar plan: “The 2wd honours can go the way of at least six different drivers, so the secret is flat out from the word go, but you also need consistency and no stupid mistakes like a spin.”
Brother Roger has mixed thoughts, as his Toyota WR Starlet’s engine did not arrive back in time for the CP-SS: “Not having had any seat time for the year, it will be even harder to keep up with the guys. It is good to draw first blood and catch the others off guard, but pushing that hard so early is risky; it just takes one spin or flat tyre to take you out of contention! It will be a gruelling rally, with consistency key.” In addition to an up-specced engine, Mayers also reports “the team has finally gotten on top of the gearbox problem that plagued us for most of 2017.” His co-driver is Jason Parkinson, who was part of a memorable Starlet battle with Mayers and Cliff Roett in 2003.
With co-driver Lindsey Pilkington, Andrew Jones (Lucozade/Caribbean Powder Coating/Southern Surf Beach Apartments/AP Jones Pharmacy Ford Escort MkII) has had two top 10 finishes since 2014: “I used to think coming out of the box at top speed gave you a good cushion for the rest of the rally, but times have changed. Everyone comes out the box hot, so you have to keep up this pace from start to finish; there’s no backing off, because six other guys are nipping at your heels waiting to pounce. This is where reliability plays a big factor and that can be a real game-changer. I think the 2wd battle will be a nail-biter right to the finish at Bushy Park.”
Dane Skeete, who campaigns the front-wheel-drive Sol/Automotive Art Peugeot 306 Maxi with Tyler Mayhew, says: “The secret for 2wd of late seems to be reliability, but hopefully this year that will be less of a problem for all of us. As for the speed, that’s a given – it’s 110 per cent from the start!”
The potential front-runners – others include Justin Campbell (BMW M3) and Neil Corbin (Toyota Starlet), both with top 10 results in recent years – have been joined by Daryl Clarke, who announced his arrival in style, fastest overall on stage one of the CP-SS. Success in Modified 2 has earned the respect of his peers - Watson talks of his “blistering pace and good package”, while Skeete adds: “I'm definitely looking forward to having Daryl in the mix, it will be nice to have another front-wheel-drive to compete with.”
The 2016 BRC Champion Driver and co-driver Russell Brancker are looking forward to action in the Automotive Art/Flow/Amir’s Chicken/MQI Collision Repair/eCarib Classifieds Honda Civic: “I’m new to this outright 2wd battle, so I can only go off what has happened for the year so far. I think I’m the wild card no-one expected to be so fast so quick (not even me); you have to be out the box fast, because I think when every one settles in we will all set fastest times at some point, so the battle will be extremely tight. With what I’ve seen so far, I think once it’s dry I will throw some surprises that everyone who begged me to come to SuperModified won’t want to see.” Fighting talk, indeed!
Sol Rally Barbados (June 1-3) and Flow King of the Hill (May 27) are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017. Title sponsors: The Sol Group and Flow. Major partners: Automotive Art, Banks, Chefette, Simpson Motors, Toyo Tires. Partners: Accra Beach Hotel & Spa, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, Geest Line, Tourism Development Corporation. Associate sponsor: Stoute’s Car Rental