Five former winners of the island’s premier event are among crews from 14 nations listed on the final running order for Sol Rally Barbados 2011, the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international. The final seeding, based on the results of last Sunday’s Shell V-Power King of the Hill, was published by the Barbados Rally Club today (June 1), in advance of this evening’s Briefing Meeting and Welcome Party.

From day one’s opening stage – a new four-kilometre test in the north of the island – to the climax of day two, the Sol Aviation SuperSpecial at Bushy Park being run for the first time under floodlights, competitors will face 24 special stages and a total stage distance of a little under 120 kilometres.

At 9.30am on Saturday, Roger Skeete will start at number one, co-driven in the One World Group/Michelin/Simpson Motors/Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Virgin Atlantic Subaru Impreza WRC S12 by Louis Venezia, with whom he claimed his 11th victory in the event’s 21-year history in 2010.

Starting at two is the leading overseas challenger, former UK National Rally Champion, England’s Paul Bird (Frank Bird Poultry Ford Focus WRC08), with Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick; in his three previous visits, Bird has twice finished second – to Kris Meeke in 2008 & ’09 – then third last year; there is only one step on the podium he has failed to visit, and that is his target this year.

Winner in 2003 & ’07, Paul Bourne, co-driven by Ronald Plant in the Banks/Chefette/MQI/Castrol Focus WRC07, starts third, ahead of two more strong overseas challenges, England’s Rob Swann and the Jamaican pairing of Gary Gregg and Hugh Hutchinson (BD Gregg & Bros Ford Focus WRC05), who won in 2006.

With his Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod, Swann won Group N in Sol Rally Barbados 2010, then repeated the result in Rally Jamaica last December, becoming the first driver to claim the double; for 2011, they have stepped up to the World Rally Car class in the Going Places Travel/Waves Barbados/Revolution Wheels/R A Swann Ltd Impreza WRC S12.

Sean Gill and Michael Cummins (Simpson Motors/Shell V-Power/Automotive Art/Chefette Suzuki SX4 WRC) start at six, Gill also a former winner; he was the co-driver for 1993 winner Kenny McKinstry, when he returned to claim his second victory in 1996. At seven are Roger Hill and Graham Gittens (Esso/Nassco/MotorMac Toyota Corolla WRC), ahead of Trinidad’s John Powell and Michael March of Jamaica (Intercontinental Shipping Ltd Impreza WRC S12).

The top 10 is completed by the leading two-wheel-drive crews: Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward (Lubriguard Oils/Hankook Tyres/Nassco Toyota Starlet) and brothers Roger and Barry Mayers (Chefette/Digicel/Delaware Dispensary/Illusion Graphics/Quality Tyre Starlet) will start at nine and 10 respectively, but will have last year’s highest-placed two-wheel-drive trophy winners, Ian and Robert Warren (Chefette/Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift) breathing down their necks at 11. Co-driven by Max Ferri, Roger Mayers won Rally Barbados in 2005 in a Ford Focus WRC.

In addition to the battle for overall supremacy, there are no fewer than 16 separate class battles to be fought out, most of which will involve island competitors pitting their skills against either regional or international entries, sometimes both. There will be excitement and intrigue right through the field.

The entry will be reseeded for the 9.30am start on Sunday, based on the results after the opening day’s 13 stages.

Sol Rally Barbados 2011 – final running order statistics
+ 89 crews on the final start list
+ competitors from 14 nations (including Barbados), with Australia and Germany represented for the first time
+ 19 four-wheel-drive cars, including 10 World Rally Cars
+ 41 International drivers or co-drivers – 22 new to the event
+ 9 drivers or co-drivers from the wider Caribbean – 3 new to the event
+ 10 female competitors (including the first all-female crew to contest the event)
+ cars from 16 manufacturers: Ford – 20; Toyota – 16; Mitsubishi & Subaru – 9; BMW – 7; Peugeot – 6; Suzuki – 5; Honda & Opel/Vauxhall - 4; Datsun/Nissan & Porsche - 2; Austin, Citroen, Daihatsu, Renault & Volkswagen – 1

Sol Rally Barbados 2011 (June 4/5) and Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 29) 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, Tourism Development Corporation, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line and Virgin Atlantic Airways; associate sponsors are Stoute’s Car Rental, Glacial Pure, Chefette, Field Insurance and Sagicor.

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