SKEETE WINS THRILLING SOL RALLY BARBADOS

“The best rally battle I’ve ever been involved in”, says Bird

Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete chalked up his 11th win in the Caribbean island’s premier event with victory on Sol Rally Barbados 2010 (May 29/30), which marked the 20th Anniversary of the inaugural running of the Barbados Rally Club’s International All-Stage Rally; the winning margin of just 1.16secs was the smallest since 2001 after two thrilling days of competition, during which the lead changed four times.

With co-driver Louis Venezia in the Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Michelin/Warrens Motors/Big John's Subaru Impreza WRC S12, Skeete battled with fellow-countryman Paul ‘Surfer’ Bourne, who has won the event twice, and former UK National Champion Paul Bird, second for the past two years to Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke – all three led the event, described by Bird as “the best rally battle I’ve ever been involved in.”

The intensity of the lead battle was reflected elsewhere, as 90 crews from a record 15 nations, including the host country, contested the 13 classes: 39 drivers set class stage-winning times, compared to 27 last year, and no winner of a contested class can claim a perfect set of stage wins . . . and all this played out in front of upwards of 20,000 spectators who lined the five stage venues over the weekend, culminating in the new Shell V-Power SuperSpecial at Simpson Motors.

Bourne and Allan Kinch (Banks/Chefette/LIME/Virgin Atlantic Ford Focus WRC 07) set the pace, beating Skeete on the opening uphill 5.8-kilometre Automotive Art Canefield stage by 1.85secs; co-driven in the supercasino.com/Vent-Axia Ford Focus WRC 08 by Scotland’s Kirsty Riddick, Bird stalled under heavy braking after an overshoot and lost 16 seconds trying to restart the hot engine, dropping him to 16th.

Fastest on the next stage, LIME Malvern (6.2kms)  - beating Skeete by one second and Bourne by two – Bird started to fight back; while Skeete retaliated on the second Canefield, three more stage wins placed Bird nine seconds behind Bourne at lunch, with Jamaicans Gary Gregg and Hugh Hutchinson (Rally Jamaica/Seaboard Marine/BD Gregg & Bros/NG Racing Ford Focus WRC 05) third and Skeete fourth.

The first downhill Canefield of the afternoon was cancelled, after a long delay to clear a damaged car, so battle was rejoined at Malvern, Bourne and Bird remarkably joint fastest; Skeete retook third place from Gregg, which became second (3.3secs behind new leader Bird) after the next Canefield, where Bourne lost 20 seconds to a puncture.

A mighty effort from Skeete on the day’s final stage (Canefield, as the last Malvern run was cancelled to avoid excessively late running) saw him 2secs faster than Bird, to lead overnight by 1.16secs; Bourne was third, another 9.5secs down, with a delighted Sean Gill and Michael Cummins fourth in the Simpson Motors/Shell V-Power/Automotive Art Mitsubishi WRC. The top six was completed by Trinidad’s John Powell, co-driven in the Shell Helix Subaru Impreza WRC S12 by experienced Brit Craig Thorley – Powell admitted to making a few mistakes – and locals Roger Hill/Graham Gittens in the Esso/Nassco/MotorMac Toyota Corolla WRC.

Second to Bourne on Sunday’s opening Stewarts Hill stage (4.1kms), Bird took the lead, Skeete occasionally in trouble with the launch control – at the Prizegiving, he said: “Really, I think the launch control was having trouble with Roger” – but Bourne was on a charge. With three stage wins from the first four, he passed Bird for second and, by the end of the second Karcher Kendal (6.1kms), was just six-tenths behind Skeete.

Over the next six stages, Skeete and Bourne enjoyed a titanic struggle, Skeete the faster of the two on Stewarts Hill, Bourne on Kendal . . . each time Skeete extended his lead, Bourne cut him back on the next stage. As they headed for the Shell V-Power SuperSpecial at Simpson Motors – included in the event’s overall timing calculations for the first time - the gap between them, which had risen to 4.31secs at one point in those six frantic stages, was back down to six-tenths!

By the time they arrived, there were already thousands lining the SuperSpecial at Warrens, unaware of the drama that was unfolding, or that the rally was yet to be won, or lost . . . one slight slip on the roughly one-kilometre stage winding through the estate’s service roads, with sidewalks and kerbs at every turn, could spell disaster.

With all eyes on the Giant Daylight Screen, fans missed nothing: Skeete edged Bourne by seven-hundredths of a second on the first run then, while Bourne went nearly a tenth faster, Skeete found a whole second, to claim a memorable victory, his 11th on the island’s premier event, his first since 2004. Bird was 11th on the first run, then split Skeete and Bourne on the second, to finish third by just under 13secs; he was also the highest-placed international competitor and co-driver Riddick the highest-placed female.

The rest of the top six remained unchanged – Powell (highest-placed regional crew), Gill and Hill - while Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton and Mike Fennell (Rally Jamaica/Seaboard Marine Ford Focus WRC 00) thrilled the Warrens crowds with some tyre-smoking doughnuts on their way to seventh place, fellow countryman Gregg having dropped out of the top 10 on Sunday morning. The highest-placed two-wheel-drive car was eighth, brothers Ian and Robert Warren having enjoyed a largely untroubled run in the Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift, repeating their SuperModified 11 class win of last year.

Group N was won by UK crew Rob Swann and Darren Garrod, who finished ninth overall in the Automate CGI/Waves Hotel and Spa/Revolution Wheels/R A Swann Ltd Subaru Impreza N14; a perfect set of stage wins on Saturday morning’s stages gave them an advantage they were not to lose, despite a big spin at Stewarts Hill on Sunday and only achieving three more stage wins (including both SuperSpecials) over the weekend.

Their margin of victory was less than 7secs over 10th-placed local crew Geoffrey Noel and Kreigg Yearwood (Globe Finance Inc/Mix 96.9/Sentry Insurance Brokers/Dewalt Tools/Automotive Art/Ezone Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), but it was enough, as third-time visitor Swann said afterwards: “We had to win this rally on Saturday, so that’s what we set out to do . . . but that spin at Stewarts Hill could have spoiled it all!”

Three further classes were won by International crews: Holland’s Frans Verbaas and Mascha Corvers (Verbaas Preparations/Koni/Holland Huis/Hoewijk Special Paint Austin Mini Cooper) prevailed in Group B after local hero Geoffrey Ullyett’s remarkable Datsun blew its engine; Rob Whitehouse and Yvonne Mehta won Modified 8-A in their Lancia Delta Integrale, while Richard Lewis and Marieanne Gray (Tsalta Motorsport/Cam Sport Ford Escort MkII) repeated their Historic class win of the previous weekend’s Shell V-Power King of the Hill.

Sol Rally Barbados 2010 (May 29/30) and Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 23) are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group. Marketing partners are Simpson Motors, LIME, Automotive Art, Banks and Karcher; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line and Virgin Atlantic Airways; associate sponsors are Stoute’s Car Rental, Glacial Pure and Chefette.

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web site – www.rallybarbados.bb