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Perfect start

Neil Armstrong goes airborne in Trinidad and Tobago.

Neil Armstrong goes airborne in Trinidad and Tobago.

Two former winners of the Barbados Rally Club’s premier event started their preparations for Sol Rally Barbados 2013 in perfect fashion over the weekend.

Victories for Jamaica’s Jeff Panton in Trinidad and Tobago and local ace Paul Bourne in Barbados have kick started what should be two months of debate across the region on their prospects for Barbados’ June 1 and 2 major rally event.

Fans at Rally Trinidad which ran from March 22 to 24, the first of the Caribbean’s Big Three for 2013, enjoyed a battle between Panton (Ford Focus WRC06) and Barbados’ Neil Armstrong in the Suzuki SX4 WRC.

Although on his WRC debut, having claimed two-wheel-drive honours in Sol Rally Barbados for the past two years, Armstrong achieved his first WRC stage win, and finished second to Panton over two days of high-speed loose-surface stages.†”We are trying to keep it relaxed and take it one stage at a time. There is so much to learn. We are having a blast, though,” Armstrong said.

In Barbados, Bourne (Focus WRC07) was fastest in both directions in last Sunday’s double-header Spring Blaze tarmac sprint, organised by the Motoring Club of Barbados Inc, and also the opening rounds of the BRC’s Virgin Atlantic Championship.

“I’ve been busy since November, so I really had to make a mental effort to switch back into motor sport mode. I felt good in the car, however, and wanted to go for the win in both directions, since I didn’t accomplish that last year,” Bourne, a 2003 and 2007 Rally Barbados winner, said.

His closest challenger was Roger Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC S12), a 12-time winner of the BRC’s premier event, who was faster in the afternoon practice and first official run. He noted the importance of early-season events as preparation for Sol Rally Barbados 2013.

“We started cautious, given how things went at last year’s opening event. Also we are trying a few new things on the car, new bump and rebound settings, along with some different tyres.”

The stand-out performance of the day came from two-wheel-drive winner Josh Read, fastest on every run and third overall, winning SuperModified 10 in the Toyota Starlet.

A top 10 finisher in Sol Rally Barbados for the past two years, Read said: “We are running a new Autronic ECU, which Dennis Heath really put some effort into tuning. We rebuilt the suspension and re-wired the car in the off-season and must now pull the differential for a check on that. It’s disappointing not to have Neil Armstrong in two-wheel-drive this year, but if I can’t get at him in the Starlet I’ll aim for the SX-4.”

Read’s most consistent challenger was Ian Warren (Suzuki Swift), another regular top 10 runner in Sol Rally Barbados. Happy with his day’s work, Warren said: “I’ve been smiling ear to ear. Today was a full day of testing, we changed settings on every run, barring the final one of the day. I don’t mind being behind Josh today, but this will be a very competitive year.” (RB)††

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