LOCAL CREWS SHAKE DOWN FOR SOL RALLY BARBADOS
Nearly 50 cars are entered for Sundayâ€™s (May 6) Valvoline Shakedown Stages, as local crews use the islandâ€™s first tarmac rally of the year as a crucial part of their preparations for Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10), while the organising Barbados Rally Club (BRC) fine tunes its event management systems in advance of the Caribbeanâ€™s biggest annual motor sport International.
Sundayâ€™s event is round three of the BRC Virgin Atlantic Driverâ€™s and Class Championships, and the start of a busy time for competitors: with Shell V-Power King of the Hill on June 3, and each day of Sol RB12 a separate round of the championship, there are four points-scoring opportunities over the next six weekends.
Rally fans eager to soak up the latest news are invited to Scrutineering between noon and 5.00pm tomorrow (Saturday) at Automotive Art, Welches; there will be Valvoline give-aways, the first chance to buy 2012 Automotive Art rally gear, with food and drinks also on sale. Among the cars bound to attract attention is the unusual Lotus Exige, which will be campaigned by Stan Hartling, representing the Turks & Caicos Islands, with co-driver Andy Proudfoot from Canada.
The Valvoline Shakedown Stages will start at 9.00am from Pool Plantation Yard, St John, which is the venue for the service area, lunch break, finish and planned post-event social. There are 12 stages, giving a total distance of around 42 kilometres: in the morning, there will be three runs each from Blackmans to Malvern (2.90kms) and from Society to Pool (4.20kms); after lunch and a 1.00pm restart, the stages will be reversed and run Malvern to Blackmans followed by Pool to Society.
The most successful driver in recent Shakedown Stages history, with three wins in the past five years, Paul Bourne is seeded at number one in his Ford Focus WRC07; his local season has started well, winning two of three events staged so far. Sol Rally Barbados winner for the past two years Roger Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC S12) starts at two, with Sean Gill (Suzuki SX4 WRC) at three.
Seeded fourth is Roger Hill (Toyota Corolla WRC), the only driver with a perfect top 10 record in the Shakedown Stages over the past five years â€“ aside from his 2009 win, he has finished second, third and fourth (twice) â€“ with Trinidadâ€™s John Powell (Impreza WRC S14) and Dean Serrao (Impreza WRC S9) rounding out the Modified 8-WRC entry.
Completing a total of 10 four-wheel-drive cars, Avinash Chatrani (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) is alone in M8-A, while Geoff Noel, Mark Hamilton (both Evo IXs) and Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) will resume their tussle for Group N honours.
While the overall battle will hold the attention of many, competition will be hot among the leading two-wheel-drive crews. Very evenly-matched, Neil Armstrong (Toyota Starlet) and Ian Warren (Suzuki Swift) have between them been the giant-killers of the past couple of seasons, also highest-placed 2wd in the Shakedown Stages, Warren in 2009 & â€™10, Armstrong last year.
They have already shown strong form in local events this year, but others are keen to join the party. The strongest challengers include two former winners of the Caribbean Motor Racing Championship (CMRC), Stuart Maloney and Roger Mayers, both also Rally Barbados winners, Maloney as co-driver to Bourne in 2007, Mayers driving his self-engineered Ford Focus two years earlier.
Maloneyâ€™s Peugeot 306 Maxi and the Starlet that Mayers shares with brother Barry have also both been at the sharp end of 2wd competition in the last year, but itâ€™s an arena which is becoming ever more crowded. Other contenders include the BMW M3s of Logan Watson and brothers Owen and Sammy Cumberbatch, all of whom have finished in the top 10 in the Shakedown Stages in the last five years.
While those drivers contest the SuperModified classes, the Modified classes also promise action. Front-runners here so far have been Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) and Neil Corbin (Starlet), while Jamal Brathwaite (Mitsubishi Mirage RS), Kyle Catwell (Volkswagen Golf GTI), double circuit racing Champion Eddie Corbin, armed with the ex-Freddie Gale Toyota Corolla RunX, and Jeremy Sisnett (Ford Fiesta) are all in the mix.
Sol Rally Barbados, Shell V-Power King of the Hill and the Valvoline Shakedown Stages are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007; Sol RB12 is the 23rd running of the Clubâ€™s annual International All-Stage Rally and marks the fifth year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbeanâ€™s largest independent oil company.