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Ladies, Gentlemen and car enthusiasts of all ages, welcome to part 2 of the Autolifer’s 2016 coverage of the Sol Rally Barbados. A few weeks ago I wrote to all you adoring readers regarding the shake down of the event called the King of the Hill. Which for the first time, saw two kings crowned in Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton and Martinique’s Simon Jean-Joseph with Rally Barbados first timer, Welshman Elyfn Evans, placing third and completing a Ford 1-2-3.

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The next Friday saw the crews gather for the first two stages of the event which were two passes around the Bushy Park Racing Circuit using the Race of Champions side by side design, with the cars starting from slowest to fastest.

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By the end of the night Rob Swann was sitting in 3rd place in his Subaru Impreza after a pretty decent run.

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Driving his New Ford Fiesta competitively for the first time was Kevin Proctor and after the first two stages he sat in a fine 2nd overall, some 4 seconds off the lead.

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Leading the way after the Friday night stages was Jeffrey Panton and Michael Fennell Jnr as the defending champion laid down the gauntlet for all challengers.

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It was a rough start to the rally for two of the most world renowned as both Elfyn Evans and Simon Jean Joseph both got jump starts on the first stage and faced 10 second penalties as a result, which put them down in 9th and 6th respectively and with a lot of work to do on our short stages.

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Outside of the battle for rally supremacy, the battle for the coveted 2WD drive honours got underway. After his last performance on the Bushy Park stage, Peugeot 306 Maxi driver Dane Skeete was favourite again, however, a stall on the second pass ended his chances of leading the 2WD battle. Leading that battle was Roger Mayers, who drove against Josh Read (In the picture above) in one of the most anticipated battles of the night and with Mayers coming out on top, he led the 2WD battle going into day two with Read second.

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Onto day two and it was a much different rally for me. This year I worked with local motorsport media company doing some live stage start interviews and live reports from one stage, sorta like Colin Clarke and Co in the World Rally Championship. Day two of the event saw them use the northern part of the island for the days 12 stages and I found myself on the longest stage of the day, which was a 7 kilometre test going from Mt.Poyer in St.Lucy to Luke Hill.

The stage was the third stage on the loop and by the time the drivers got here both Simon Jean Joseph and Elfyn Evans had climbed back to the top four with Joseph in second and gaining quickly on Panton, while Evans recovered from 9th to lay 4th. Funny enough, it was on this very stage that Evans managed to get a stage win while Roger Skeete and Kevin Proctor (pictured above) had some early issues and where off the pace.

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Fighting close behind rally leaders where the two wheel drive top contenders who all reported to having a bit of a moment on the mornings first two stages, but they where still in it and battling the elements. Roger Mayers was on form in the early stages as he drove like a bat out of hell to keep the equally as crazy Josh Read off his back and at that moment he was doing an good job. Meanwhile, Dane Skeete held a sold third in the battle while Rhett Watson sat outside the top ten waiting to pounce.

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A few years ago I said to a friend of mine that if Neil Corbin gets his hand on top class machinery, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Seen above in his most faithful Toyota Starlet making a get away from the start line. He drove his car at speeds that seemed crazy to the eye, but yet you got the sense that he was in perfect control with Mathew Staffner guiding him on the notes. He was sitting comfortably in the top 16 on Saturdays stages and leading his class.

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Behind the main fight where some of the many battlers form some of the lower classes who are all involved in some epic battles. Sitting at the front of the line in this shot is Jamal Braithwaite who was at this point setting in 2nd in the Modified 2 class while Jeremy Gonsalves (behind him) lead the S1 class.

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I posted this Escort being piloted by Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan simply because it is beautiful.

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Outside of the action, being at stage start allowed me to catch some of the competitors in their pre-start rituals, some are focused, others have a casual kick back, while others like to fiddle with the GoPros…lol

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We have lift off! After the lunch stop I head to the Four Hill to French Village test excited to shoot a jump for the first time. This shot of William and Gareth Parry taking flight was a lovely one.

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This beautiful Red Escort Car of Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward flew just as nicely… those old girls(Escorts) do take flight well.

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The team of Andrew Jones and Lindsey Pilkington didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy the flight like their Escort counterparts as they had to nurse the car through this stage and was subsequently caught and passed just before the crest by Roger Hill and Graham Gittens, who were men on a mission after suffering early issues on the day in their WRC Corolla.

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Speaking of men on a mission. Daryl Clarke and Russell Brancker (above) piloted there Honda Civic like men possessed and during this section of stages they had shot themselves up to 12th place. Meanwhile, Dane Skeete found himself third in 2WD and locked in a interesting battle with Kevin Proctor who was still coming to grips with new Fiesta. the pair where in 9th and 10th at this point.

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Easy on the landing lads…this pair at it again and had now climbed in to the top 14 places…it was looking like a great rally for the pair.

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It was a tough Saturday for the team of Barry Mayers and Ben Norris. The pair was having an okay start to their Rally in the new car, but had a small incident which saw them miss a few stages and as such, they couldn’t be classed as overall finishers.

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Sticking with the theme of new to Rally Barbados… after competing in the Suzuki Swift Challenge this year Pascal Calvel was drawn in by the rally bug and decided to bring his sweet little Citroen C2 R2 Max and his co-driver Miguel Azerot along for the ride.

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Back to the big battles at the sharp end of the standings and after this loop of stages heading into the final days action the team of Roger Mayers and Sean Corbin sat at the helm of 2WD all the while holding down a cool 6th place overall.

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Just behind him by some nine seconds as the team of Joshua Read and Mark Jordan, while Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew continued to hold down third.

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Roger Duckworth was as consistently fast as he always is and sat in a comfortable lead in the WRC-2 class and 8th overall, which also meant he lead his nemesis Kevin Proctor who sat in 9th.

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After lunch, Rob Swann was sitting in a fine 3rd place and keeping the charging Elfyn Evans off his back however he encountered a few issues with his fairly new Subaru S12 WRC and he was 5th going into Sunday.

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In 4th place going into Sunday’s action was 13 time Rally Winner Roger Skeete who recovered from a bit of a slow start, by his own admission, to sit in a position to challenge for the podium.

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Fifteen seconds ahead of Skeete was Welsh crew of Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry whom would have had a slightly bigger cushion behind them had they not jumped the gun on stage one, but they recovered well and the WRC pedigree showed true as they wasted no time coming to grips with nature of our event.

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In second place after having quite an eventful rally was Simon Jean-Joseph and Jack Boyere. They, like Evans, had gotten a ten second penalty as I stated earlier, then after reeling Panton in with some awesome driving he made some errors ..had an off… had a puncture…and to cap it off some car issues, so to be in second was still quite the achievement.

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Leading the pack is that dynamic duo of Jeffrey Panton and Michael Fennell Jnr who shrugged off the challenges and lead a Dom Buckley Motorsport 1-2-3 into the third and final day.

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On to the third and final day of Sol Rally Barbados and with three passes over three separate test awaiting the crews with the fight for the rally, class supremacy and the Sunday cup still on. On my way to my desired spot for the days first stage I arrived a bit late, so I jumped out the car and snapped a few quick ones and managed to catch Neil Corbin who at this point was well on his way to his best ever Rally Barbados finish!

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When I finally got to the spot quite a number of crews had already passed but I managed to catch this beauty of Andrew Costin-Hurley and Rob Brook in the Ford Puma Evo…and yes that is a spit of flame!

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If you looked at this car you wouldn’t think that it suffered an accident on the very last stage on day two in the darkness… Clarke and Brancker were sitting in a strong position when it all when wrong on a wet fast bumpy section. They came in a little too fast into a small sequence of corners, hit a bad bump and that was all she wrote. They were back for Sunday Cup the next day.

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After that first pass through Drax Hall ended I made my way to the Malvern Wall for the second pass through that stage and as the first couple cars filtered through I noted that there was no Simon Jean-Joseph. This was because on the very first stage of the day his Focus’ differential gave up the ghost and he was out which promoted Elfyn Evans into second and left Jeffrey Panton with a large cushion to second place which meant he could take things a little easier knowing he wouldn’t have a fast charging Martinican behind him.

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Evans though still had to worry, Sundays stages were fast with some sweeping corners and long straights, meaning that big 2 litre WRC cars would by difficult to catch or fend off and smelling a place on the 2nd step of the podium was Roger Skeete who drove the Imrpreza like a mad man as he took huge chucks of time out of Evans and eventually passed him.

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Now that battle for 2WD drive. For the first time in quite a few years the local crowd was treated to an epic battle for the 2WD crown. At this point Josh Read and Roger Mayers were scrapping in a heated dog fight which proved so hot that it had them both squabbling for a top five position, especially after Rob Swann hit trouble after he had an off. Meanwhile Dane Skeete sat in third doing battle with Kevin Proctor for a top ten spot.

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Why we love Escorts. We don’t care who is driving them we just want them to hang their tail out while moving rapidly #Sideways

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Away from the big fights the team of David St.Hill and Ian Grimes had now been promoted to second place in the S3 class (or what is known as the BMW Class) after the demise of Rhett Watson on the early stages Sunday morning. The team gradually getting better and when they upgrade the BMW to match some of the quicker drivers in the class they will be a force to be reckoned with.

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By this point in the rally, Mark Thompson and Kurt Seabra in the first Mitsubishi GrpN Evo had a resounding lead over the other member of the their class. After main rivals in the form of Andrew Mallalieu and Geoffrey Goddard in their Grp N Subaru had dropped out they had a little over a minute lead to the next team of David Coelho and James Harris seen in the second Mitsubishi and took the class win along with 14th overall. Coehlo and Harris were 17th.

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After the second pass, my crew and I abandoned the third and final pass through the stages and opted to head to the last stage of the rally at the Vaucluse Raceway for what was slated to be the grand finale. Even though this was listed was a stage in the event, all the drivers had to do was break the beams at the start of the head to head super special and they would be declared finishers, what you did after that was up to you.

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Before the fun began, scores of media used the opportunity to get the final thoughts of some of drivers over what was a grueling three days rallying.

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I on the other hand, took that chance to chat with first ever active WRC driver to participate in Rally Barbados. Elfyn Evans is a super approachable guy and while saying he was coming here just for the fun, he took to the stages and attacked in a very professional manner and it’s just unfortunate that he was driving an R5 Fiesta and not a WRC one.

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Happiest group of Jamaicans in the entire world of rallying right now, Success after success. I often say, if only his WRC outings in the mid 90s turned into something more. In fact a Caribbean team with Panton and SJJ would have been something.

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Mark Kinch and Andrew Peirce had a mixed rally. It was their first major outing in the new BMW M3 and he steered the car to excitement of the fans in a sideways fashion in keeping with the previous owner. However, next year they will be looking to finish all stages and not be a competitor in the Sunday Cup.

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Pascal Calvel and Miguel Azerot drove the Citroen C2-R2 MAX to a fine 3rd in class on their first ever Rally Barbados Experience, behind the Kenny Hall and Neil Corbin who we’ll get to later.

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Speaking of first, Stuart Austin came to Rally Barbados for the first time, picked up a local co-driver and got bumped up a class which saw him going up against Elfyn Evans, Joe McQuillan and Avinash Chatrani. However, with Evans running away with the class and McQuillan and Chatrani both having rally woes, he and co-driver Jason Tull captured a second in class.

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Jim McKenna and Arthur Kierans…..a proper crew from the Irish Land…… first Rally Barbados…4th in class and 12th overall.

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To the top ten and landing his best ever overall finish of 10th, placing third in RWD and Third in 2WD was Neil Corbin alongside Mathew Staffner.

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After dropping loads of time and landing themselves south of 50th place the pair of Roger Hill and Graham Gittens worked their way back into top ten a scored 9th with a second in the WRC-2 class.

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After the event, he looked like a frustrated figure… but throughout the rally he showed some good speed and had it not been for some costly mistakes and a few issues he would have been fighting for a podium spot. However, it was 8th place for Rob Swann and Aled Edwards.

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There is nothing like finishing a your first Rally in a completely new car, Kevin Proctor can testify to that. He started off the rally in second place but as the event went on he slipped further down the order, however, with a bit more seat time he and co-driver Philip Hopkins could be battle for the win next year. They were 7th overall.

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Above them was the Subaru pair of Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield. No matter which co-driver sits with him, Duckworth brings the car home in a top 10 position and this time is no different. He was first in WRC2 and 6th overall.

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To the top 5 and after battling with their fellow Toyota starlet counterparts the team of Josh Read and Mark Jordan had to settle for 2nd in the S2 class, 2nd in 2WD and 5th overall.

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Leading the two wheel drive battle and scoring his best Rally Barbados result in recent memory was the very talented Roger Mayers. Guided by Sean Corbin, he was also 1st in 2WD, 1st in Rear Wheel Drive and 1st in the S2 class.

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Top the Podium positions and after a couple of mixed rallies in both the World Rally and British Rally Championships, this event was exactly what the doctor ordered for Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry. Away from the pressures of performing the two could come and have a relaxed event and get their groove back and that they did. After placing third overall in the Fiesta R5 Evo and 1st in Group A they entertained the crowds much like Didier Auriol did back in 2005.

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What can I say about this guy, after recovering from a tricky first two days, Roger “The Sheriff” Skeete as he is known turned back the clock when he chased down Evans on the final days stages. With higher placed competitors falling around him the old veteran steadied his ship and when he was presented with the chance to attack, he attacked like a shark that smelt blood and due to the advantages he had over Evans with engine size, torque capacity and general power, he alongside co-driver Louis Venezia carried our national flag and took 2nd place.

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Leading the crews home for the second year running and the third time in his career was Jeffrey Panton from Jamaica. I have often said that he is probably the best driver to come out of the English speaking Caribbean and that he was one of the few who could have really shined on the world stage. However, that dream didn’t pan out, but this one did and we as a Caribbean people get to witness the talent that is Jeffrey Panton, who alongside Micheal Fennell Jnr can say that has racked up the record as being the first driver to win Rally Barbados, Rally Trinidad and Rally Jamaica on three or more occasions.

Congratulations to you Mr.Panton and all the crews who participated in the 26th edition of Rally Barbados, I hope to see you all there next year for another 20 odd stages of excitement.

Words & Photos: Stefan Walker