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Class Battles Promised in Sol Rally Barbados
Armstrong and Noel aim to keep the trophies at home

Since the organising Barbados Rally Club (BRC) published the provisional entry list for Sol Rally Barbados 2009 on Monday (May 11), the main focus on the popular internet chat rooms in the island and around the region has been on who will claim outright victory in the Caribbean's biggest annual international motor sport event.

There has been vigorous debate, much favouritism of particular drivers, and not a little nationalistic fervour, as Bajan fans look to their own to return the trophy to the island, after Kris Meeke last year became only the fourth overseas driver to win the BRC's blue riband event in its 19-year history.

But the story of Sol Rally Barbados (May 29-31) will run far deeper than that. In all, there could be as many as 13 'winners', as those contesting the various classifications vie not only for points in the Virgin Atlantic BRC Class Championship, but also - in most cases - to represent well for the 'home team'.

Those classified in Modified 8-WRC are the potential outright winners, but there is every reason to expect the front-runners in M8- A and Production 4 - in essence, European Group A and Group N - to be well into the top 10 in the final results.

The battle in M8-A will be one to watch: Group N winner (eighth overall) last year, Ryan Champion has acquired the Subaru Impreza 555 in which Pierro Liatti claimed six top seven World Championship finishes in 1996, now sponsored by Champions, Pirelli, MSR Motorsport and Axis Caribbean. The former Puma and Mitsubishi Evo Champion and co-driver Craig Thorley want another class win . . . but it won't be easy.

Leading the local defence are Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward (Simpson Motors/Hankook Tyres/Shell V-Power/Gunk Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) and Kirk Watkins/Ryan Corbin (Abacus Builders Inc/Hankook Evo V); these crews finished second and third last year, to five-time class-winner Roger Hill, who has moved up to M8-WRC.

Whether success for local ace Martin Atwell in the Evo III he shares with Scottish owner (and Barbados regular) Graeme Finlayson counts as a home or away result is unclear; either way, he was fearsomely fast at night in Finlayson's previous, less-powerful, car last year. Britain's Tom Roberts (Playboy Entertainment/Autolink/VP Racing Evo VI) returns for a fourth visit, this time co-driven by Welshman Paul Rees, one of whose earlier visits to the island resulted in his marriage to local rally stalwart Biddy Barber's daughter, Aly, while locals Michael Worme/ Brian Gibson move up from Group N in the Cot Media Group/Speedline Performance Auto/Dingolay/Details Car Valet Impreza Sti.

Production 4 has nine entries, led by 2005 winner Geoff Noel in the Globe Finance/DeWalt Tools/Essco/Sunbeach/Automotive Art Evo IX; despite finishing second to Champion last year, he and co-driver Kreigg Yearwood both look on it as one of their most challenging and enjoyable events, and will be keen to build on the experience.

The strongest threat will be Trinidad-based Jamaican John Powell (Intercontinental Shipping Evo IX); with fellow-Jamaican Michael March, he has twice finished second overall in Corolla World Cars and, although a bit rusty after missing much of the last two years, his attacking style will serve him well. Dark horse may be British Rally Championship regular Rob Swann; after an impressive debut with Darren Garrod in an older N11 last year, he will aiming to at least keep his Revolution Competition Wheels/Escape Hotel Impreza N14 ahead of the similar car of Barbados-based Brit Harold Morley and experienced local co-driver Geoff Goddard.

The older Imprezas of Dean Serrao/Ryan Farmer (Amalgamated Security/Coconut Car Rentals/Lucky Games Inc N12) and David Williams, co-driven by Kris Yearwood in the Mix 96.9FM/Consolidated Finance/ Warrens Motors/Dynamic Limo Services/Castrol WRX Sti, should not be too far behind, while newcomers Mark Antrobus and Rommell Coppin will be on a steep learning curve in the Speedline Performance Auto/ Caribbean Alliance Insurance/Premier World Cargo/Precision Plumbing Services Sti.

The entry is completed by Scottish duo George Anderson and John Millar (George Anderson Building Contractors/Hutton Stone/J I Inglis Joinery Contractors/MVR/Border Ready Mix Concrete/lilmiss504 Evo VII), returning to the island for the first time since 2002, and locals Ryan Hutchinson/Andre Snobell (Toyota Celica GT4).

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. Marketing partners are Automotive Art, Banks, Digicel, McEnearney Quality, Red Bull and Simpson Motors; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line, Stoute's Car Rental and Virgin Atlantic; associate sponsors are ARMAG, Caribbean Airlines, Crane & Equipments, Merville Lynch Productions, Little Switzerland and Shelbury Construction.