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Senna's "Nut-Case" Heads to SOL Rally Barbados
Welsh legend looks forward to "the craic"

Welsh rally legend Phil Collins, once described by triple Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna as "a nut-case", will treat Caribbean motor sport fans to a demonstration of why the late Brazilian superstar might have thought that when he contests the region's biggest annual motor sport event, Sol Rally Barbados, in May.

Collins is the first new high-profile entry to be confirmed by the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) in advance of the 20th running of its blue riband event; he and regular co-driver, Ireland's Derek Brannigan, will contest the SuperModified 11 class in a Ford Escort Mk II, which Collins describes as "a fairly specialised rally car" and Britain's Motorsport News called "wild" in a report last year.

Built in 2006 by Quick Motorsport and backed by Silverstone Tyres, Millington Engines, Great Stuff Caterers, Orchard Motorsport, Collins Engineering and Pontilas Developments, its 2.5-litre engine produces a little over 300bhp; the bright red Escort is a popular sight in the UK, as Collins snaps at the heels of World Rally Cars on iconic tarmac events like the Manx National in the Isle of Man and the Rally of the Lakes and the West Cork Rally in Ireland.

The encounter between Collins and Senna came courtesy of the now- defunct magazine Cars & Car Conversions, missed by enthusiasts the world over, including in Barbados, thanks to its supportive coverage of island motor sport for more than 20 years. In 1986, CCC arranged for the JPS Grand Prix driver to test some rally cars in Wales.

Having only seen rally cars on television, his first experience came in a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth driven by 1985 Securicor Sierra Challenge winner Collins, recruited to provide some basic instruction. After the first run, Senna said: "Too quick for me. He's a nut-case!" In response, Collins said: "It's a pity it's so rough out there or I could really scare him - of course, the problem is he's about to get his revenge."

Once he'd taken Collins for a couple of runs, Senna drove four other cars, including Harry Hockly's CCC-backed Vauxhall Nova Sport and a Clubman-spec MG Metro 6R4, after which he said: "It has been much more exciting than I expected. I didn't feel the time going by because I was finding out, learning more and going harder and harder."

That was during the first of two distinct periods in the rallying career of Collins. Having started in 1978 in an Escort RS2000, he switched to Opel, first an Ascona then a Manta, before the Sierra Cosworth in 1985; he was a front-running works driver in the UK, second in the National Championship twice, the BTRDA Forest Championship three times, and fourth in the Open Championship twice. Co-driven by Roger Freeman, his Manta was also 14th of the 62 survivors in the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally (his only finish in six attempts) - 155 crews started what is remembered as one of the WRC's toughest-ever events, with 63 stages, nearly 550 miles on snow and ice, and two 36-hour loops.

His UK results earned Collins an FIA 'B' seed, but his approach to rallying was about to change: "In 1989, our preparation company accepted the Toyota contract to prepare the Celica GT4 for David Llewellin; as a result, I lost the Sierra drive and the car was given to Gwyndaf Evans. I went for a ride in my brother's Mk II Escort, and thought 'why not?' So I bought one and started all over again, this time not chasing works drives or championships . . . just having fun trying to embarrass as many people as possible who drive ex-works World Rally Cars!"

Collins enjoys a big following, both in the Escort and his recently-built Ascona 400, which he debuted on last year's Roger Albert Clark Rally with co-driver Nicky Grist, only to roll while lying 10th; a similar fate befell the Escort on its debut on the 2006 West Cork, again with Grist, lying sixth and just one second behind a Focus WRC. A popular speaker at club events and forums, he has also raised money for many good causes, one method being to auction off rides in the Escort at events such as the annual Castle Combe RallyDay. Of his trip next month, Collins says: "I'm really looking forward to the craic in Barbados. I'm told it's pretty good!"

Sol Rally Barbados Chairman Barry Gale remarked: "We are really excited to have a legend like Phil at our event. Rear-wheel-drive cars and on-it drivers are a popular combination here, while his reputation as a personality means we can't help but enjoy his company. I'm just a little worried that our local Escort stars like Mark Hamilton, Andrew Jones and the Watson brothers might get a little overshadowed . . . but I'm know they'll do their best to find an answer!"

Sol Rally Barbados 2009 (May 29-31) and Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 24) are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group, the Caribbean's largest independent oil company, and both events are rounds of the Virgin Atlantic BRC Driver's and Class Championships. Associate sponsors include the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association.