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Bird Targets Sol Rally Barbados Win
Finlayson to miss Shakedown Stages

Confirmation from the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) that English businessman Paul Bird's entry is the latest to be received on-line for its blue riband event, Sol Rally Barbados 2009 (May 29-31), brings to seven the number of World Rally Cars entered, equalling last year's record . . . and there are more still on the horizon.

Winner of the UK's ANCRO National Rally Championship in 2005, 'Birdy' finished second to Kris Meeke in the Caribbean's biggest annual motor sport event on his first visit last year, and is targetting victory this time round. He will again be partnered in the Energy/Vent-Axia Subaru Impreza WRC S9 by Ian Windress, co-driver in his title-winning year, and also in Britain this year, where he is chasing a second ANCRO crown.

Both he and arch-rival, Rally Barbados regular Steve Perez (ANCRO Champion in 2004), are this year campaigning Ford Focus WRC 07s, but Bajan fans will have to wait a little longer before they get to see one in action on island stages. The timing of Sol RB09 does not work well for either driver - through his company VK, Perez is the title sponsor of the increasingly-popular Chatsworth Rally Show, which falls this year on the first weekend on June, and it is important for him to have his ex-Marcus Gronholm Focus on hand for his local audience . . . he will be in Barbados with his Focus WRC 05.

From Bird's standpoint, success in the Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Championship (the title under which the ANCRO series now runs) is the priority, so the Impreza, which he described earlier in the year as his "Barbados car", will make the trip across the Atlantic.

Yesterday (April 19), in the notorious forests of Kielder in the far north of England, Bird looked set to celebrate his 42nd birthday with his first win of the year, leading comfortably after setting fastest time on the first three stages of the Pirelli Tour of Cumbria; a massive "schoolboy error" overshoot at a chicane on the fourth stage, however, cost him around 50 seconds. Despite setting the fastest time on the remaining three stages - the fourth stage in the second loop was cancelled following a major fire which destroyed the S2000 MEM Proton driven by reigning British Rally Champion Guy Wilks - Bird finished second, only 4.6secs behind Marcus Dodd (Hyundai Accent WRC) despite the lost time, and 5.7secs ahead of Perez.

Afterwards, Bird said: "I'm disappointed to miss out on the win; I just keep messing it up . . . but I have to say that's the best I've ever driven. Now I feel at home in the car and I'm delighted to have set fastest time on all of the stages bar one. Roll on the Manx and we'll see what we can do on tarmac!"

The Manx falls on the first weekend of May, a few days after the European entries for Sol Rally Barbados sail from Portsmouth. Bird and Perez are tied on 43 points in the ANCRO standings, eight behind multiple Champion Dodd; all three failed to finish the opening round, Rallye Sunseeker in February, while Perez and Bird finished second and third to Dodd on the Border Counties Rally in March. As both Bird and Perez will miss the Severn Valley Stages, which clashes directly with Sol RB09, 'Birdy' will be pulling out all the stops . . . and that means the Focus needs to stay in the UK.

Finlayson disappointed to miss Automotive Art Shakedown Stages

Rally Barbados regular Graeme Finlayson will be a disappointed non- starter for the Automotive Art Shakedown Stages (May 3); after making early preparations to ship his latest acquisition, an ex-Quick Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III RS, to the island for a shaekdown, last-minute dramas intervened.

A downhearted Finlayson said: "We had the car mapped and the valve springs done before shipping, and all was looking great. Then the cam belt went on the way to the port; we bought a second engine, had that dropped in, then the turbo seized, we sorted that, and then the clutch seized!"

Despite the dramas, Finlayson is set on expanding his Caribbean competition programme: "Assuming I can get everything in order, I plan to leave car in Barbados for three or four months and do the rest of the tarmac season out there, before shipping it back to prepare for what I hope might be a full season in the region in 2010."

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.