Eleven-time winner of the island’s premier event, Roger Skeete, continued his preparations for next weekend’s Sol Rally Barbados with victory in Shell V-Power King of the Hill, yesterday’s (May 29) ‘shakedown’ event, watched by thousands of spectators.
Driving the One World Group/Michelin/Simpson Motors/Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Virgin Atlantic Subaru Impreza WRC S12, Skeete was nearly three seconds clear of the field on the practice run, clocking 2mins 00.53secs. England’s Paul Bird (Frank Bird Poultry Ford Focus WRC07) was second on 2:03.41s, Paul Bourne third on 2:03.55s in the Banks/Chefette/MQI/Castrol Focus WRC07 and Roger Hill (Esso/Nassco/MotorMac Toyota Corolla WRC) fourth on 2:03.94s.
On the first official run, a combination of factors shook everything up: minutes after ‘Birdy’ and Bourne had been slowed by a thick cloud left by Graeme Finlayson’s blown turbo, rain fell, affecting nearly all the remaining Modified 8-WRC crews. Sean Gill clocked 2:05.30 in the Simpson Motors/Shell V-Power/Automotive Art/Chefette Suzuki SX4 WRC) to lead after the first run, just over 2secs ahead of team-mate Ian Warren, who topped two-wheel-drive in the Suzuki Swift.
Although the rain clouds never dispersed, it stayed dry for the remaining two runs. Skeete reasserted himself on the second run (1:57.65), but Bird was just seven-tenths adrift (1:58.36) and a full second clear of Bourne (1:59.92); while Bird bettered Skeete’s second-run time on the final climb of the 3.4-km course, and Bourne came within four-hundredths, Skeete had one final answer for them both, clocking 1:56.44, to win by nearly one second.
Afterwards, Skeete commented: “The dry runs were perfect, even though we could have been tidier in some places. There is definitely more time in the car but the aim is to be good for the rally.” While Bird referred to it as “a good day”, Bourne said: “I had that rusty feeling again at the start, but eventually worked into a groove. The car is definitely good, I just need to keep pushing myself.”
Behind them, an improvement of nearly six seconds (1:58:94) lifted Britain’s Rob Swann from seventh to fourth on the final run in the Automate CGI/Waves Hotel and Spa/Going Places Travel/Revolution Wheels/R A Swann Ltd Subaru Impreza WRC S12; on his debut in the WRC class, he was ahead of 2006 Rally Barbados winner Gary Gregg (fifth in the BD Gregg & Bros Focus WRC05) and 2.8 seconds quicker than the Impreza S12 of Trinidad’s John Powell, who finished eighth. Gill and Hill were sixth and seventh.
The top 10 was completed by two of the day’s most impressive drivers and set the scene for a classic two-wheel-drive battle next weekend. Never outside the top 10 all day, Neil Armstrong (Lubriguard Oils/Hankook Tyres/Nassco Toyota Starlet) was three-tenths ahead of Warren’s Swift on the practice run; he trailed him by around the same margin on the first two timed runs, also slipping behind the Chefette/Digicel/Delaware Dispensary/Illusion Graphics/Quality Tyre Starlet of Roger Mayers on the second.
Armstrong pulled out all the stops on run three, however, carving almost three seconds off his time to finish ninth overall; Mayers improved, too, nudging Warren out of the top 10, all three of the finishing ahead of England’s Roger Duckworth, who was without anti-lag all day in the Intrinsys/Kumho/Autosportif Impreza WRC.
Armstrong won SuperModified 10 and Mayers SM9, while Bryan Gill proved the best of the BMW M3s in SM11, finishing 13th overall and beating brothers Owen and Sammy Cumberbatch by 1.6s and 3.8s respectively. Geoff Noel (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) was 14th overall and winner of Group N, with Andrew Mallalieu (Impreza N10) second and Germany’s Berndt Kneupfer third in the unusual Opel Astra OPC Turbo – regular front-runner Mark Hamilton (Evo IX) suffered gearbox failure.
Just six-hundredths behind Noel came the younger Mayers brother, Barry, in turn just half-a-second ahead of Josh Read (Starlet), another driver whose commitment, particularly at the famous Lion Castle ‘jump’, was a talking point of the day.
There promise to be some close class battles next weekend: Adrian Linton (Vauxhall Astra GSi) won M7 by less than 2secs from Daryl Clarke (Honda Civic) – that meant a class win for his 17-year-old son Dominic on his debut as co-driver – while Dane Skeete (Peugeot 206) claimed M6 by just nine-tenths from Neil Corbin (Starlet).
Overseas visitors enjoyed mixed fortunes: there were class wins for regular visitor Steve Perez (Historic 3 Porsche 911 RSR) and newcomers Andrew Siddall (H2 Ford Escort RS2000 MkI) and Scotland’s Alex Hall (M5 Opel Corsa), the latter coming just a few days before his 18th birthday! On the down side, Ireland’s Glenn Campbell suffered a drive shaft failure on his Nissan Micra Kit Car and the popular Ford Anglia WRC of Scotland’s Allan Mackay suffered some electrical problems.

 The island’s workshops will be busy for the next few days, as competitors from 14 nations prepare to contest the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international.

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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