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Europeans Set Sail for Sol Rally Barbados
Old and new, big and small… Geest Line freighter ships them all

Motor sport fans who work for the Geest Line in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, have been enjoying themselves over the past couple of days, as more than 20 rally cars have assembled on the docks ready for shipping next week to the Caribbean's biggest annual motor sport event, Sol Rally Barbados (May 29-31).

While they would have expected to find models from those car- makers recognised in the rally world, such as Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel and Subaru - with at least three ex-works World Rally Cars among them - there were two distinguished names from the British motor industry that would have raised more than the occasional eyebrow… Aston Martin and Riley! And two more diverse cars you could hardly expect to find, separated by more than 40 years in age, more than 300 horsepower in the engine department, and the best part of two feet in length.

For the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation's 1965 Riley 1.5, this is the second trip across the Atlantic; in the hands of Ding Boston, one of the OUMF's founders, and ace student co-driver Jon Puliston, it finished second in the Historic class of Sol Rally Barbados 2008, despite a slight brush with the scenery on the Sunday morning.

Bought for just £300 on eBay, the car was transported from a Scottish field to a cowshed near Oxford, where it was restored and prepared for competition at their own expense by student members of the OUMF. This is an independent, student-run initiative providing the encouragement and facility for 'hands-on' engineering experience that is now almost completely lacking at either university.

Of their trip last year, Boston noted: "We learned more in that two weeks than we've learned together in the past three years: it was a real pressure-cooker environment, and the only way for them to get that experience is by going out and doing it."

The OUMF crew is still busy fund-raising for this year, now that car preparation and delivery to Portsmouth is complete. Boston added: "As well as some very welcome backing from local firm Phillips Tyres, also MASS Race Engines, Powervamp Racing, Recaro and Toyo Tyres, we have the promise of some good media coverage from Practical Classics Magazine, so we can certainly provide a return for potential sponsors."

The Aston Martin Rally GT is an entirely different animal, touted by its creators as "the world's most exclusive rally car". Developed in 2006 by Aston Martin Racing, a partnership between Prodrive and Aston Martin, the Rally GT is based on the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. It was extensively re-engineered by Prodrive, which combined its experience of running the Aston Martin DBR9s in international sports car racing with more than 20 years of rallying experience, to create this unusual car.

In common with the DBR9, the Rally GT uses a standard road car chassis fitted with a Prodrive-designed roll cage. The 430-horsepower engine is closely-based on the all-alloy road car 4.3-litre V8 unit, but has been tuned to make it more flexible and responsive for the demands of rallying.

The car about to set sail for Barbados was built for English businessman and avid rally fan Chris Moss in 2007, and is the only right-hand-drive Rally GT; although he worked full-time in motor sport some years ago, Creative Chairman Moss only started to compete in 2005, at the wheel of a Mk II Escort, and does so "purely for fun". His co-driver in the FAMOSS Ltd-backed car will be Stuart Ullyatt.

The Rally GT is run by David Appleby Engineering, which invited triple British Rally Champion Mark Higgins to drive one of the sister cars on the Live Rally Stage at Race Retro, an international historic motor sport show in the UK in March. Although he had not previously driven the competition version, Higgins had experienced his fair share of Astons as one of the stunt-driving team on the most recent James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Afterwards, he wrote on his web site blog: "I always think rear-wheel drive and a great noise makes for a good car . . . . and the Aston certainly has both of those qualities. It's a real boy's toy!"

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.