Despite the organisers of Sol Rally Barbados 2011 (Jun 4/5) assembling the best World Rally Car entry in the history of Caribbean rallying, the subject of the most heated discussions in the internet chat rooms and rum shops of the 166 square-mile island is what promises to be an epic battle for bragging rights in two-wheel-drive.

 When Barbados Rally Club (BRC) officials set out to attract more 2wd cars from overseas – the incentives include full entry refunds for the highest-placed front- and rear-wheel-drive crews - little did they know that the ‘home team’ would be seeking reinforcements; it seems likely that the new trophies for the top 10 highest-placed 2wd cars will be shared between home and overseas crews.

 Four-wheel-drive cars have only once (2009) locked out the overall top 10, as giant-killing acts have become almost commonplace – fans still talk about Barry Mayers (Toyota Starlet) finishing fourth overall in 2005, while Sean Gill and Ian Warren have each driven the Chefette/Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift well inside the top 10 in three of the past four years.

 The Swift has been the class of the local 2wd field of late, but things may be about to change. As a dropped valve prevented Warren starting the BRC Shakedown Stages in early May, no direct comparison was possible with new or improved challengers, so Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 28) will be watched with particular interest.

 Under the ‘improved’ heading come Neil Armstrong (now with 1.8-litre Formula Atlantic power in the Lubriguard Oils/Hankook Tyres/Nassco Starlet, which should carry him closer to the Swift than before) and Josh Read, who looks ever more at one with the Automotive Art/Baram Services Starlet as each season passes.

 The ‘new’ heading includes the return to rallying (as a driver) of former Caribbean circuit racing champion Stuart Maloney, winner of Rally Barbados in 2007 as co-driver to Paul Bourne; his Automotive Art/Marshall Trading/Sea Freight Agencies Peugeot 306 Maxi had shown prodigious speed in the Shakedown Stages before the engine blew.

 Mayers and his elder brother Roger (the 2005 winner in a Ford Focus WRC) have a new Chefette/Digicel/Delaware Dispensary/Illusion Graphics/Quality Tyre Starlet, Brett Clarke has an ex-works Citroen C2 S1600, while the BMWs must not be forgotten, particularly those of Brian Gill, who claimed two-wheel-drive honours in May in the Kerns Juices/Maxi Malta M3, Logan and Rhett Watson in The Unknown Entity M3, and the similar cars of brothers Owen and Sammy Cumberbatch.

 The overseas challenge is a varied one, including the Kick Energy Porsche 911 RSR of Steve Perez, who has three times missed out on a podium finish by just one place in a Ford Focus WRC, and the Historic class Escorts of South Africa’s Geoff Bell, and the UK’s Craig Salter and Andrew Siddall. Also at the wheel of rapid Escorts from the UK are Robert Chomondeley and Nigel Worswick, while Australian Paul Darrouzet’s 5-litre V8 Ford Capri Perana brings further variety to the line-up.

 In addition to aiming for a top 10 2wd finish, most of these drivers will also be fighting for SuperModified class honours. Maloney and the BMWs are in SM11, along with first-time visitor Darrouzet and England’s Martin Stockdale (Divi Southwinds Beach Resort/Drive-a-Matic Car Rentals BMW M3 Compact); he’s on his 11th visit to the island and rarely goes home without a pot. The dark horse here might be James Betts in the Quikstart Auto/Makita/Quik Liner spray-on bed liners/Dial-a-hand Renault Clio.

 SM10 is the home of the Swift and Armstrong’s Starlet, where Cliff Roett (Carters & Co/Lucky Horseshoe/Paulo’s Churasco Do Brasil/Roett’s Garage Starlet) is capable of presenting a stiff challenge, given reliability, as could Ralph White, whose Barbados Villa Services/Island Safari Starlet has something new under the bonnet; this class is also where Cholmondeley and Worswick fit in.
 In SM9, the Mayers brothers are pitted against Clarke’s Citroen and the class act of the recent seasons Read, in his Starlet; all are past BRC class champions, so a great battle is in prospect there . . . but, while close-fought battles for class honours are the stuff of rallying, island fans like nothing better than entertainment, and that means ‘sideways’.

 The SuperModified groups have rear-wheel-drive cars aplenty to provide that, among them Andrew Jones (A P Jones Pharmacy/Rally & Competition Equipment/Precision Automotive/Southern Surf Beach Apartments Escort MkII), Calvin Briggs ( Escort MkII), Alex Whitehead (Sign Station BMW 328i), Eric Allamby (Shelbury Construction Mitsubishi Lancer) and Nigel Reece (Subzero Services Ltd/TGM Air Conditioners/Trident International Corporation/Ullyett’s Machine Shop Service/Structural Systems Escort MkI).

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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