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It is almost time for the biggest Caribbean rally spectacular the Sol Rally Barbados, however before we get to that, some of the island’s top drivers along with some regional contingent had to take a bit of time out of their day to have ‘scrutineering’ or what the British like to call ‘Rally Scrutiny” for the 2015 installment of the Barbados Rally Club’s Shakedown Rally or Warm Up Rally, which ever tickles your fancy, on April 17th. Personally, I love scrutiny as it’s a chance to catch the drivers in a much more relaxed environment where they go to ‘scrutineers’ to have their cars approved for both safety and compliance to the rules set by the relevant governing body. Being in this environment allows you to realize the these drivers are in most cases just friends racing against the clock and it also helps you see a different side of the “gladiators” that hit the stages at full tilt.

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Now onwards to the event start list and for this year we had some 35 starters who came under starters’ orders with a golden opportunity to get match fit as it were, for the big Rally spectacular. Fun fact: two of these drivers, Jeffrey Panton and John Powell and are among the very select number of drivers who have left the Caribbean to compete in the top flight of the WRC with Panton tackling the then Network Q RAC Rally in 1996 & 1997 in Group A Toyota Celica, while Powell did the Rally Spain in 2012 in a M-Sport run Ford Fiesta WRC.

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The event itself was based in the north of the island, utilizing the Four Hills to Orange Hill and Collins to Pickering stages, with reverse runs after lunch making up some 37.5 Kms which meant you had to be on it from the word go. Jamaica’s Panton in his 2006 spec Ford Focus set the early pace with a time that was almost 7 seconds faster than Roger Skeete in the first stage as Skeete reportedly had a puncture and that set him back for rest of the day. In fact, things got worse for Skeete as a 25 second penalty he incurred for getting to a stage 5 minutes early saw him slip way down the order into the clutches of the 2WD drive front-runners and languishing in 5th place. This also promoted John Powell to a fine 2nd place who gave his all in order to keep a tight grip on the podium spot, especially after Skeete started to quickly climb the leader board. While Skeete fought his way back up, Panton used attack as his greatest form of defense as he won all five stages leading up to the lunch halt and after that he consolidated his lead and then won the final stage of the day to make it 6/10 stage wins to cap off an almost perfect performance with a total elapsed time of 22 minutes 12.22 seconds.

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In second, was John Powell in a slightly younger Ford Focus than Panton’s some 18.37 seconds off the winning pace. Powell, finished the first stage in 5th after a slow start, picked the pace up as the day went on and was consistently bagging himself 2nd and 3rd times on the board and doing a good job of keeping Skeete at arm’s length. After lunch, he had to drive hard as Skeete mounted a charge in his attempt to get higher up on the podium. However, Powell only being a few shades away from Skeetes’ times on the stages after lunch was able to keep him at bay and held on to his second place, which is surely going to give him confidence as he was trying to push hard but not damage the car before Rally Barbados. Meanwhile Skeete finished 3rd in his Subaru Impreza WRC some 14.81 seconds of Powell and another 33.18 of leader Panton after a herculean effort when he tried to make up all the time caused by is aforementioned setbacks.

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Now it is time to look one of the most hotly contested battles in the Barbadian rallying scene and that is the 2WD battle. In Barbados we have some very special cars that are known as “WRC Hunters”. These cars come from the Super Modified 10 class and house some pretty special machinery that on their day given the right event and conditions can beat the WRC boys. On normal speed events where time isn’t accumulated, these cars can get sometimes as close as a second off the pace of WRCs dependent on how much balls the pilot has on the day. If you look at some of the witchcraft these cars have plus the lighter than a toaster weight they seem to carry, these cars are our version of what F2 used to be back in the late 90s.

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For this year’s shakedown only three of the recognized big five competed with Josh Read, Neil Armstrong and Barry Mayers one half of the Mayers Brothers who share a car all got under starters orders to kick start that old 2wd Toyota Starlet rivalry. Armed with new sponsors and new liveries the drivers set off but, before it could get started’ it all ended when Josh Read encountered problems with his flywheel bolts which all but broke and sees him having to get a new set and some clutch parts before the big rally and that all she wrote. This left Barry Mayers and Armstrong to battle for top 2WD honours. However, their party was spoiled by BRC Championship leader and Super Modified 12 contender Rhett Watson in his BMW who mixed it up with Armstrong for parts of the day. Barry Mayers was off to a flying start, after an impressive second place time on the first stage, Mayers was consistently in the top six times all day and to be honest, no one in the battle for 2wd never got within touching distance and with that he ran our winner of the SM10 Class, winner of 2wd and 5th overall, a cracking performance. Watson was consistent all day and was always there abouts, and at times he was incredibly close to Mayers’ times, a tall order is considering the sizable weight difference between the cars. Watson was first in class SM12 and second in 2WD while Armstrong was 2nd in the S10 class and third in 2WD.

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Other Class winners where Roger Hill who was 4th overall and first in WRC-2, Andrew Mallalieu was first in Group N, Andrew Jones was first in SM11, Avinash Chatrani like Hill was the lone competitor in his class and finish first in Group A, Daryl Clark won M7, Kurt Ward won SM9, Jeremy Corney won Clubman, Paul Inniss came out on top in class M6 while Wayne Archer won the Historic class.

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Dane Skeete and his co-driver Tyler Mayhew having a hairy moment in their glorious Peugeot 306 Maxi. Don’t worry Patrick they got away with minimal damage!!

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Final Top ten results for the BRC Shakedown Rally 2015:

1st Jeffrey Panton – JAM/Michael Fennell Jnr-JAM (WRC1) 22m 12.22s
2nd John Powell – TRI/Jason Costello – TRI (WRC1) + 18.37s
3rd Roger Skeete/Louis Venezia (WRC1) + 33.18s
4th Roger Hill/Graham Gittens (WRC2) + 47.67s
5th Barry Mayers/Sean Corbin (SM10) + 52.21s
6th Rhett Watson/James Hutchinson (SM12) + 1m 18.21s
7th Neil Armstrong/Barry Ward (SM10) + 1m 21.29s
8th Andrew Jones/Lindsey Pilkington – ENG (SM11) + 2m 02.53s
9th Andrew Mallalieu/Geoff Goddard (GpN) + 2m 15.01s
10th Daryl Clarke/Russell Brancker (M7) + 2m 16.03s

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If it’s one thing I’m missing is the presence of former Rally Barbados winner and WRC class competitor Paul Bourne. Paul is, at this moment, taking a break from the sport and has laid his Ford Focus up for sale, not only him, but the other 2 members of the 2WD big five Bret Clarke and Ian Warren. The former is prepping is ridiculously fast ex-Kris Meeke Citroen C2 for this year’s Rally Barbados and the latter has still yet to return after his huge accident last year put him and his Suzuki Swift on the shelf. The good news is he’s recovered, the bad news, the car is still in need of some tender loving care. That’s it for now but make sure to keep up with Bajan motorsport here on Autolifers!

Words & Photos: Stefan Walker