Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho captured in this Gerrard Wilson image during Sol Rally Barbados 2019

Four-wheel-drive numbers building with overseas arrivals

Overseas rally drivers, starved of competition since the coronavirus pandemic brought motor sport worldwide to a grinding halt in March, are pulling out all the stops to make the return to closed road events in Barbados a weekend to remember. The non-championship Barbados Rally Club (BRC) Test Stage on Saturday (August 22) will be followed on Sunday by the Motoring Club of Barbados Inc’s (MCBI) ‘Hammer Time 20’.

Britain’s Rob Swann will head across the Atlantic on Thursday, Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho is already in the island, having competed at the Vaucluse Raceway’s 20th Anniversary RallySprint last Saturday, while Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Rally Team will also arrive mid-week. With Jamaica’s Jeff Panton also on the ground testing for the first time in the Ford Fiesta WRC he acquired just before the global lockdowns and the growing popularity of the FIA R5 class, this weekend’s events look set to boast the biggest four-wheel-drive entry outside Sol Rally Barbados for many years.

Like Panton, Swann now has a Fiesta WRC, in which he won the Mini Tempest Rushmoor Stages in the south of England last December before shipping the ex-Peter Smith car to Barbados in time to test at Bushy Park just before the island’s lockdown in March. Runner-up in the Caribbean’s biggest motor sport International three times, he lost out in 2017 and ‘18 to Panton, against whom he last competed in the UK in February, both driving Fiesta R5s in a single-venue event at the Cadwell Park racing circuit in Lincolnshire.

Swann said last week: “We fly out next Thursday Covid test permitting, which we will have before we fly. It will be good to get back in the Fiesta at the Test Stage on Saturday ready for the Double-header on Sunday. I won’t be carrying a co-driver so, hopefully, my Barbados experience will help me. Marie and I will then stay on for a week’s holiday, as I haven’t had a day off through all the lockdown and could really do with one. It will be great to see all our Bajan friends, as it’s been a while.”

T&T’s Coelho was the first driver in the region to regularly campaign an R5 car, a Fiesta, but the class is now growing steadily, with at least six expected to be in action this weekend. With Trinidad’s borders remaining closed during the pandemic, Coelho has had his challenges: “After being stuck in Miami for four plus months, I managed to make my way to Barbados and am now stuck here, but at least I get to return to motor sport. That’s one unique advantage that Barbados has afforded me beyond letting me enter the island to seek refuge at a time when returning to my country of Citizenship still isn’t an option! I am eternally grateful.

“The weekend was good fun at Vaucluse. I tried to drive both cars – the R5 and the BimmaCup – which was very difficult given the schedule and the heat! I got properly beat in the BimmaCup (serves me right) but had a better time in the R5, where everyone was quick. We all got up to speed and had some fun. Andrew Mallalieu and I had some great matchups, Stuart Maloney was going very quick but had to leave before the end, which left me in a head-to-head with Roger Hill for the final, which was decided in his favour by something like 6/100ths of a second I believe it was. So I am looking forward to this weekend. I plan to do a couple of the practice runs on Saturday and look forward to the Sprints on Sunday.”

Like other Caribbean destinations, Turks & Caicos has been in lockdown, with the tourism industry hit hard by the pandemic. Ahead of his trip this week, Horton said: “We are staying as positive as possible, that’s all we can do like everyone else. I fly from Turks to Jamaica, test, then Jamaica to Barbados, test and hopefully only quarantine for a day or so. If all falls into place, we test at Bushy Park, then tackle the two weekend events. Orange Hill and Cherry Grove have two different surfaces, speeds and so on, so I think the variance will be good for seat time and set up.”

Horton has campaigned his Fiesta R5 only once, in the Galway International Rally in Ireland in February, co-driven by Darren Garrod, three-time runner-up in Sol RB with Swann. Looking back on an event he describes as “an eye-opener”, Horton said: “It was a very humbling experience and one I am glad I took. The conditions and the speeds the guys were doing, unbelievable! It was certainly a baptism of fire, it was great having Darren next to me and I would not have wanted to do it without him.”

Garrod sat with fellow Welshman Matt Edwards to win the British Rally Championship in 2018 and Edwards had supervised a test programme for Horton before Ireland, a day at the Anglesey race circuit followed by two days on a closed stage in the Welsh mountains. Horton added: “I have asked Matt to come to Barbados and help with set up and more familiarisation after me having been out of the car for a while. I must thank Darren and Matt for making such a big difference as I get used to the Fiesta, which is a real jump up from the Citroen. And I must also thank my family, especially my wife, who is my major sponsor through her business Java Island.”

A raft of Covid-19 Protocols will be in effect at both this weekend’s events and everyone is urged to follow the relevant Government advice and adhere to on-event signage. Saturday’s 1.5-kilometre BRC Test Stage at Orange Hill in St Peter is scheduled to start at 2.00pm; although a non-championship event, it will be marshalled in the usual way with a full complement of volunteers, including a timing crew. Hammer Time 20, jointly organised by the MCBI and the BRC, is slated for a 10.00am start on Sunday; the double-header format will run from Henley to Cherry Grove in St John and reverse, creating two points-scoring opportunities for competitors in both the MCBI’s 2020 Championship and Rally Club’s annual Driver’s and Class Championships.

For media information only. No regulatory value.

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web sites: www.rallybarbados.net; www.barbadosrallyclub.com



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