Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle won the Caribbean’s biggest annual international motor sport event, Sol Rally Barbados 2009, for the second time last weekend (May 29-31); driving the Digicel/Red Bull/ARMAG Subaru Impreza WRC S9 for the first time, Meeke’s winning margin was 16.75s, almost identical to last year.
After receiving their trophies from the Minister of Sport, Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, at the Prizegiving at The Boatyard in the island’s capital Bridgetown yesterday (June 1), Meeke compared the experience with his ‘day job’ as Peugeot UK’s driver in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which he currently leads: "In the IRC, I get a real sense of satisfaction when I get home for a job well done, but here I actually enjoy it while I’m doing it."
As last year, the second step of the podium was occupied by England’s Paul Bird and Ian Windress (SuperCasino.com/Vent Axia/VK Vodka Kick Ford Focus WRC07). ‘Birdy’ remarked: "It just doesn’t get much better than this, this really is the best rally in the world, the crowds, the enthusiasm, the people."
Third, and highest-placed local crew, were former winner Paul Bourne and Stuart Maloney (Banks/LIME/Virgin Atlantic Subaru Impreza WRC S9), who finished a further 56 seconds behind Bird. Highest-placed regional crew were Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton – another former winner – and Mike Fennell Jnr (Automotive Art/Bearings and Seals/Jamaica Freight and Shipping/Seaboard/Castrol/Active Traders/Automoto Ford Focus WRC), who finished seventh.
Of the 88 starters, 41 were classified as overall finishers, 66 as class finishers under the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) rules that competitors who complete two-thirds of the stages run are eligible for class awards. An estimated 20,000 spectators lined the 24 special stages, around half that number assembled for the event’s climax, the Shell V-Power SuperSpecial at the Bushy Park racetrack.
As the strongest entry in the 20-year history of the BRC’s premier event left the Friday night Ceremonial Start at Simpson Motors, few were making firm predictions. A lot of attention was being paid, however, to 10-time winner Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete, who started at number two in his recently-acquired Michelin/Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Warrens Motors Subaru Impreza WRC S12, co-driven by Louis Venezia.
And it was Skeete who set the early pace, fastest on three of Saturday morning’s six stages. While Meeke, who won the other three, admitted he had "never had to drive as hard as I did to keep up with Roger Skeete", the battle was soon to end – with a faulty battery, Skeete’s car refused to start in service and he went over the maximum allowed lateness, dropping out of overall contention. Worse was to come, however – after three more stage wins in the afternoon, Skeete crashed on the second uphill Canefield stage and, while thankfully there were no injuries, the crew would not been seen again.
This promoted Meeke to a lead he would not lose. Bird was in the top three fastest stage times throughout Saturday, but always behind Meeke, trailing him by 21secs overnight. Third, another 38secs down, was committed Brit Kevin Procter, co-driven by Dave Bellerby in the Procters Coaches Subaru Impreza WRC S7.
The other notable casualty of the morning’s action was England’s Steve Perez, co-driven in the Kick Energy Drink/VK Vodka Kick Ford Focus WRC05 by Welshman Paul Spooner; eager to improve on his hat-trick of fourth places since 2006, Perez was pushing from early, only for a throttle failure to cost him 11 minutes. Undaunted, he spent the rest of the weekend entertaining the crowds with impromptu ‘donuts’.
The performance of Paul ‘Surfer’ Bourne had caused raised eyebrows all day – not least for the driver: "I kept telling my engineer Brett I’m pushing as hard as I can, but its not happening". It took until the day’s final stage for the 2003 and 2007 winner to make the top three stages times, and then an overnight strip-down to discover a burst front-left damper, a legacy of his accident on the Automotive Art Shakedown Stages (May 3).
Trevor Manning, the 1999 winner now co-driven by Derek Edwards in the All Terrain Plus/Cellate Caribbean/Garbage Master/Bess Block Ford Escort WRC, placed fifth overnight, despite a brush or two with the scenery and broken driveshaft just prior to the day’s final stage. Panton was sixth and Roger Hill/Graham Gittens (Esso/Nassco/MotorMac Toyota Corolla WRC) seventh, disappointed not to be higher, after losing a fast time when SS10 was cancelled following Skeete’s accident.
Eighth was the highest-placed two-wheel-drive car, Ian and Robert Warren (Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors/Automotive Art Suzuki Swift) having impressed throughout the day, with Sol RB09 Chairman Barry Gale and Cherie Edghill (Autolink/VP Racing/Bella Beauty Supply/Pro Pac Dog Food Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) ninth, recovering from a couple of early punctures.
The top 10 was completed by Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward (Simpson Motors/Hankook Tyres/Shell V-Power/Gunk Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI), who had hoped for a tougher class battle. Britain’s Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley had already retired the Champions/Pirelli/MSR Motorsport/Axis Caribbean Subaru Impreza 555 with engine failure, however, while Graeme Finlayson and Martin Atwell (Rally cars for sale | race & racing cars for sale at Raced and Rallied Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III RS) had been off.
Bourne’s performance in the early part of Sunday was further evidence of his Saturday problem: third on the opening Malvern, then second on Kendal – clocked at 196kmh by the GPS vehicle tracking system – he demoted Procter to fourth, after which the order would not change. Also on the move was Hill, fourth fastest on the two downhill Kendals and now fifth, at the expense of Manning, who had a couple of spins, and Panton, who stalled. Meeke won three Sunday stages, Bird four – delighted to beat Meeke – with Bourne and Hill finally reaching the top of the pile at the end of the day.
Gale finished eighth, Armstrong ninth, with Group N winners Geoff Noel/Kreigg Yearwood (Globe Finance/DeWalt Tools/Essco/Sunbeach/Automotive Art Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) completing the top 10. Trinidad’s John Powell and Jamaican co-driver Michael March (Intercontinental Shipping Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) had lost the Group N lead, and more than one minute, to a puncture Saturday evening, and finished behind Noel and British crew Rob Swann/Darren Garrod (Revolution Competition Wheels/Escape Hotel Subaru Impreza N14) after a good three-way fight.
The Warrens dropped out of the top 10 on Sunday’s first stage, after clipping the chicane at Kendal and damaging a drive shaft; this also cost them the highest-placed two-wheel-drive trophies, which went to Jonathan Still/Heath Hazell (Hitachi Power Tools/Ocean Spray/Philips Lighting/Crane & Equipments/Little Switzerland BMW M3).
Sol Rally Barbados 2009 (May 29-31) and Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 24) were organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group. Marketing partners were Automotive Art, Banks, Digicel, McEnearney Quality, Red Bull and Simpson Motors; official partners were the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line, Stoute’s Car Rental and Virgin Atlantic; associate sponsors were ARMAG, Caribbean Airlines, Crane & Equipments, Merville Lynch Productions, Little Switzerland, Redline Fuels and Shelbury Construction.
<span style=”font-weight: bold;”>Top 10</span>
1 Kris Meeke – NIR/Paul Nagle – IRL 55m 11.84s
2 Paul Bird – ENG/Ian Windress – ENG 55m 28.59s
3 Paul Bourne/Stuart Maloney 56m 24.91s
4 Kevin Procter – ENG/Dave Bellerby – ENG 56m 50.70s
5 Roger Hill/Graham Gittens 56m 51.56s
6 Trevor Manning/Derek Edwards 56m 57.46s
7 Jeffrey Panton – JAM/Mike Fennell Jnr – JAM 57m 09.99s
8 Barry Gale/Cherie Edghill 58m 25.04s
9 Neil Armstrong/Barry Ward 59m 06.76s
<span style=”font-style: italic;”>Words courtesy of Robin Bradford | SOL Rally Barbados</span>
10 Geoff Noel/Kreigg Yearwood 59m 52.84s<br type=”_moz”/>