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Double dose

Josh Read (Picture by Himal Reece)

Josh Read (Picture by Himal Reece)

The excitement for this year’s Sol Rally Barbados on June 1 and 2 continues to grow and promises a double dose of unforgettable action.

While former United Kingdom national champion Paul Bird will face a record field of WRC cars as he tries to win back-to-back victories, not far behind will be just as intense a battle for two-wheel-drive honours.†The previous weekend’s Scotiabank King of the Hill (May 26), over a new 2.5-kilometre stage at Luke Hill in the island’s northern parish of St. Lucy, may produce even closer results, as the course will balance up the advantages of two- and four-wheel-drive.

In recent years, interest in ‘sharp end of the field’ two-wheel-drive rallying has revived, with ever-more resourceful island engineers stretching the envelope. Of late, Neil Armstrong’s Toyota Starlet has been the car to beat (sixth and fifth in Sol Royal Barbados in 2011 & 2012), but he is now driving the Suzuki SX4 WRC, and the Starlet being rested.

While losing one of the most competitive cars from two-wheel drive might have spelt disaster a few years back, that is no longer the case, as others up their game year after year. The Startlet’s closest challenger had been the Suzuki Swift of three-time SuperModified 10 Champion Ian Warren – in Sol RB11, they swapped times back and forth, until a Sunday morning ‘off’ (no fault of Warren’s); last year, the hoped-for showdown started well, with both inside the top 10, but ended when the Swift’s engine failed.

In the first two rounds of the Barbados Rally Club’s† 2013 Virgin Atlantic Championship, Warren had to give best to the Starlet of Josh Read, who moved up to SM10 last year after four SM9 titles. Read has started 2013 well, top two-wheel drive in all four events, with Warren snapping at his heels in the first three . . . but the first tarmac rally of the season at the end of April produced the closest result so far.†Roger Mayers, ninth overall and SM9 winner last year, now has an 1800 engine in the ‘WR Starlet’, bumping it up to SM10: in April, Mayers had Read on the morning’s dry stages, while Read clawed it all back in the wet of the afternoon, beating Mayers on the final stage of the day to win by just seven-hundredths of a second.

In essence, the fight for overall two-wheel drive is also the battle for SM10, although Rhett Watson was mixing it in his SM12 BMW in April, so cannot be ruled out. In the rest of SM10, mechanical problems kept Brett Clarke out of the fight that day, but had a top 10 finish in King of the Hill last year, while Cliff Roett and Ralph White are capable of good results, given reliability. Of the visitors, Scottish father and son Allan and Euan Mackay will be aiming to entertain in the Ford Anglia WRC and JWRC, returning Irishman Raymond Conlon might just go for times in his Corolla, while Enda McCormack’s immaculate Escort is an unknown quantity.

In SM12 (aka ‘Bee-Emm12’) Watson has taken over ‘Cookies’, the two-door car driven by brother Logan to last year’s SM11 and BRC two-wheel drive titles, while Trevor Manning replaces injured Logan in the four-door car (‘Crackers’). Few of the rest have been seen in 2013, Martin Atwell splitting the Watsons in the season-opening double-header and newcomer David St. Hill finishing third behind Rhett and Manning in April. Justin Campbell and Owen Cumberbatch are out for the first time, while Britain’s Martin Stockdale (M3 Compact) returns for his 13th consecutive visit.

The creation of SM12 means SM11 has shrunk dramatically, but remains hard to predict: Dane, ‘son of Roger’ Skeete drives the ex-Stuart Maloney Peugeot 306 Maxi for the first time, while the UK’s Nigel Worswick and local Andrew Jones should enjoy a good Escort battle, with both cars re-fettled since last year. Eric Allamby (Toyota Corolla) and Ireland’s Glenn Campbell (Nissan Micra) complete the class. (RB)††

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