Last night's (Friday) launch of a spectacular new rear-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta to be campaigned in the SuperModified 2 category in Sol Rally Barbados 2016 (June 3-5) by local ace Barry Mayers means all bets are off on the outcome of the much-anticipated two-wheel-drive battle in the Caribbean's biggest annual motor sport International.
Barry's fourth place in RB05 in a Toyota Starlet is the best overall 2wd finish since the event was last won by a 2wd car, Roger Skeete's Peugeot 306 S16, in 1997, and came in the same year brother Roger was the overall winner in a Ford Focus. The landscape has changed significantly, however, so the new Chefette / Digicel / Sol / DHL / Hankook / Quality Tyre / Illusion Graphics Fiesta will face strong opposition, including Roger in the family M & M Racing Team's WR Starlet.
Built in Sweden and powered by a normally-aspirated 2.2-litre Cosworth YB engine, the Fiesta arrived in the island on the Geest Line freighter which delivered the European entries just two weeks ago; the engine followed later, after an issue arose on its final dyno test before installation, and Mayers describes the fact that it is complete and driving as "a miracle. There was an enormous amount to do, once we got the car, and I must thank Roger, Russell Vincent, Russell Brancker, co-driver Ben Norris, also my parents and wife for all their support."
Last year, Rhett Watson's BMW M3 was Sol RB's highest-placed 2wd car for the second consecutive year, seventh overall, after key players were lost early: top seed Josh Read (Starlet) was OTL by the end of Saturday; Neil Armstrong (Starlet) lasted only three stages before his clutch cylinder failed; Dane Skeete (Peugeot 306 Maxi), an impressive sixth overall overnight Friday, was out with a dropped valve after SS11; Roger Mayers disappeared at the same time with suspension damage.
This season, Read has finished top 2wd (outright winner twice) in all the earlier events, including the Sunoco Shakedown Stages after resourceful work by his service crew repaired collapsing rear suspension. Roger Mayers had missed the season's opening rally for the past two years, so was glad to be on the pace, finishing third, ahead of Skeete.
Watson has had a bad start to the year. After not missing a beat for five years, the M3 has twice failed on the way home from Scrutineering the night before an event, causing him to miss one, then use the team's spare chassis to win his class in the Shakedown. Adding to the unpredictability, Armstrong will compete in a rear-wheel-drive car for the first time, a state-of-the-art MkII Escort being flown in a few days before Flow KotH.
The unknown quantity is the overseas invasion, many in MkII Escorts: England's Pete Rayner returns, while the Irish team includes Damien Hagan, Enda McCormack, Barry McKenna and Jim McKenna, with Gary Thomas from Wales also familiar with the event. Back for his 16th consecutive visit, Martin Stockdale (BMW 1M Coupe), twice the highest-placed overseas 2wd – 18th in 2011 & '12 – will surely be in the mix.
Duckworth to fly car home for annual Goodwood outing
With two of his favourite annual events – Sol Rally Barbados and Goodwood Festival of Speed - falling just three weeks (and 4,000 miles) apart, Britain's Roger Duckworth had a tough choice: miss one or come up with Plan B. And Plan B it is, his car returning to the UK by air to guarantee it will be there in time for GFoS on June 23-26.
Duckworth, whose first two Sol RB entries were prizes for winning Rallye Sunseeker National in 2011 & '12, has returned every year since, winning WRC-2 three times at KotH and twice in Sol RB in his Subaru Impreza WRC S6. Up to now, his trips have been a family holiday, but not this year: "Unfortunately, due to my daughter starting her new school last September, we decided that we shouldn't take her out of school.
"I guess I am somewhat bitten by Rally Barbados; there's always a good battle with Roger Hill and Kevin Procter, and Kevin's impressive rallycross performances this year show him to be considerably better prepared to win than I! And Nigel Worswick, who is bringing his Escort WRC, is an old adversary of mine from the days when I had my Sierra 4x4, so there is plenty to look forward to."
Duckworth's only outing this year was the Get it Sideways Stages Rally, a single-venue event on a former airfield, which he had last visited in 1989, his first year of rallying; planned as a shakedown before the car was shipped three weeks later, it did not go to plan: "All was going well, I had a very healthy lead and was getting some good practice on broken dusty concrete (a reasonable Barbados simulation), until I got carried away and dropped it on a long tightening corner that I entered at an over-enthusiastic pace.
"The resulting high-speed part spin, partial catch and drop again left me headed for the only tree in the area, which I failed to circumnavigate or stop quite in time for. Broken bumper, bent bonnet and leaking radiator meant another last minute trip to the body shop so that repairs could be carried out before the boat. Ideal preparation . . . not!"
Sol Rally Barbados (June 3-5) and Flow King of the Hill (May 29) are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which will celebrate its 60th Anniversary in 2017; title sponsors are the Sol Group and Flow. Marketing partners are Simpson Motors, Automotive Art and Banks; official partners are Accra Beach Hotel & Spa, the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, Geest Line and the Tourism Development Corporation; associate sponsors are Chefette and Stoute's Car Rental.