PANTON, FENNELL VICTORIOUS IN BRC'S SUMMER NIGHTS RALLY
Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell (Ford Focus WRC06) won the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) Summer Nights Rally on Saturday night, continuing this year’s impressive run of success in island events.
It was also their second consecutive victory in the annual day/night event, which brought spectators out in their numbers to three venues across the island. While he won nine of 11 stages run and led throughout, Panton was reflective at the finish.
“Despite winning, I’d say we had a poor rally. We battled numerous issues and made quite a few mistakes with untidy driving and spins. We had tyre issues, suspension issues and a leaking hydraulic system, making it quite miserable . . . and we weren’t able to go head to head with Roger, as he had issues, too.”
The four-wheel-drive entry had already dropped to four, with Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (GpN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) a non-starter, and was soon reduced yet further, when Roger Hill (Toyota Corolla WRC – suspension damage) and Roger Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC 12B – launch control failure) retired by the end of SS2. Andrew Mallalieu drove a tidy event, however, to win Group N in his Impreza N10, seventh overall.
But that did not detract from the entertainment for fans, as the two-wheel drive battle was as intense as ever, despite the loss of Josh Read (SuperModified 2 Toyota Starlet – engine misfire) and Rhett Watson (SM3 BMW M3 – throttle cable) from the overall running on SS1; Watson the only retirement to return later.
Roger Mayers (SM2 WR Starlet) split Panton and Skeete on the first Spring Vale to Dark Hole run and was in touch with them on Lion Castle to Hangmans Hill and the second Spring Vale, to lie second, when his rally came to an abrupt end.
“We developed a gearbox problem, where it was no longer down-shifting as it should. We tried to fight it, but it would have been too dangerous to continue with the unpredictable down-shifting.”
So, just three stages in, Mayers and Skeete were out . . . but there were family members ready to represent. Barry Mayers, with new gearbox ratios fitted to the SM2 Ford Fiesta, had been closer to his brother than during Sol Rally Barbados and was third at the first service break, with Dane Skeete (SM2 Peugeot 306 Maxi) fourth and an impressive Mark Kinch fifth, leading SM3 in his BMW M3.
As crews tackled the second loop of three stages before the dinner break, both Mayers and Skeete had their own problems, but they were manageable. Indeed, Skeete was fastest overall on the second run down to Hangmans Hill, with Mayers second and the leaders of Modified 2 and M1, Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) and Neil Corbin (Starlet) completing the top four. It was a two-wheel drive performance not witnessed in years.
Mayers lost his power steering. “I didn’t have the strength to allow the car to go sideways, so I had to keep it really clean, as the steering was very hard; it was a battle to make it to the final stage, but I am still happy as I know there is a lot more to come.”
Skeete headed Mayers on all the remaining stages, except for the first run through Todds to Bowmanston, which Mayers won outright, but Skeete had problems, too. “We found some slight suspension damage and knowledge of things like that and unpredictable reliability makes it a little difficult to give 110 per cent.”
By the dinner break, Panton led by more than 27 seconds, from Skeete, with Mayers, Clarke, Corbin and Kinch completing the top six. As the event moved into the night, with one stage lost due to stage personnel challenges, there was just one change among the front-runners, Corbin moving ahead of Clarke, thanks to three top-three stages times, including a memorable second to Panton on the last downhill Hangmans Hill of the day.
Only 17 of the 28 starters finished in an event which will have an impact on the chase for the BRC’s champion driver title, with updated points to be confirmed shortly, as points leader Josh Read was among the casualties.
Others who failed to finish included Jamal Braithwaite (M2 Honda Civic Type-R) and Jermin Pope (Clubman 1 Honda Civic), who both left the road early in the event; although both cars were damaged beyond immediate repair, drivers and co-drivers suffered only minor discomfort.