Rally Barbados winner Kris Meeke calls it "The best 10 days of my life"

Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were confirmed at yesterday's Prize-giving at The Boatyard as winners of Sol Rally Barbados 2008 (May 31/June 1); a weekend of drama and excitement ended with the first lock-out of the podium by overseas crews since Meeke's fellow-countryman Kenny McKinstry led home Jamaicans Jeffrey Panton and Doug Gore in 1996. 

England's Paul Bird and Ian Windress finished second, with Jamaicans Gary Gregg and Hugh Hutchinson third. Led by Meeke, who described his trip to Barbados as "the best 10 days of my life" after receiving his trophies from Sol's Aymara Cummins, European visitors won six of the 13 classifications, including Group N, which went to return visitors Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley.

With 86 starters including 25 four-wheel-drives, the quality entry was guaranteed to thrill the 166 square-mile Caribbean island's enthusiastic motor sport fans, an estimated 20,000 turning out for the weekend's 24 special stages; around half that number assembled for the event's climax, the Shell V-Power SuperSpecial at the Bushy Park racetrack, where a specially-constructed bridge produced some spectacular jumps. 

The drama started on the first stage - Automotive Art Canefield - with a number of incidents at the notorious Vaucluse Corner, the most damaging of which left potential top 10 contenders, Trinidad's Ainsley Lochan and Scott Sheppard, with suspension damage to their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Close to the finish of the same stage, 1979 World Rally Champion Bjorn Waldegard rolled the Steve Perez-owned Porsche 911 out of contention, although the car was repaired in time to run in - and finish - the Sunday Cup.Driving a Toyota Corolla WRC supported by his regular backers Red Bull and Pirelli, plus local companies Digicel, Toyota dealer Nassco, Consolidated Finance, Armag and Crane & Equipments, Meeke set the pace from the start, beating reigning Barbados Rally Club Rally Champion Paul Bourne by 1.21secs on stage 1.Bourne and co-driver Stuart Maloney used the Banks/Texaco/B-Mobile/Pirelli/New-Tech Subaru Impreza WRC S9 to good effect over the next two stages, fastest on Dark Hole and the second Canefield, cutting the gap to 0.3secs; Meeke fought back on stage 4, but what had promised to be an enthralling battle was cut short, as Bourne rolled the Impreza when it is believed something broke just after the stage finish. 

This promoted Gregg (BD Gregg & Bros Ltd/NG Racing/Monster Energy/McEnearney Quality Inc Ford Focus WRC02) to second and the two-wheel-drive Simpson Motors/Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Yokohama Suzuki Swift of Sean Gill and Michael Cummins to a remarkable third place, following top six times on the first five stages. 

Apart from Meeke, the Europeans were taking time to get into their stride, Bird completely new to what is known as a tricky event, while Perez, with co-driver Howard Davies in the Kick Energy Drink Ford Focus WRC03, rarely pushes early in island events. But there was worse trouble for Kevin Procter and Dave Bellerby (Procters Coaches Subaru Impreza WRC S7) - running fourth coming into stage 5, Procter miscalculated the right-handed Vaucluse Corner and hit a small wall hard, dislodging the left rear wheel. A stop-start finish to the stage to avoid delaying other competitors cost two minutes compared to their earlier runs, while the necessary repairs resulted in them being OTL after the lunch break, and therefore no longer in the running for overall position.

With the event running late, Saturday morning's final stage was cancelled and, come the afternoon, everyone had settled down. Meeke was fastest on four stages (three through Sailor Gully and the final downhill Canefield) and, while Gregg claimed the other two Canefields, the Irishman carried a 53-second advantage into the overnight halt.Gregg was second, while Bird was proving to be a fast learner - second twice to Gregg on Canefield, he was now third overall, four seconds behind Gregg, but less than one in front of the 10-time winner of the island's premier event, Roger Skeete. 

With Robert Simmons co-driving the Michelin/FB Batteries Ford Escort WRC, Skeete was fighting back after losing time on stage 1, in the top five on all but two stages since.Perez and Gill were next, with Trevor Manning/Derek Edwards (Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors/Garbage Master Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII) and Roger Hill/Graham Gittens (Mobil 1/Nassco/MotorMac Toyota Celica GT4) seventh and eighth. Despite much work, the Evo was still lacking pace - its top speed at the end of the Vaucluse Straight was 175kmh, according to GPS vehicle tracking, compared with 187kmh for Bourne, Meeke and Hill.The top 10 was completed by the Group N leaders, following a close battle all day; in the Monster Energy/Champions/Sol/Axis Caribbean Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII, Champion had been the faster on stage 1, after local crew Geoff Noel and Kreigg Yearwood (Globe Finance/Ezone/DeWalt/Automotive Art/Sunbeach Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) had a small excursion. 

These two swapped faster times back and forth, rarely letting other Group N runners into their private battle, and Noel led at lunch by 17secs; a full house of fastest times in the afternoon, however, gave Champion a 10secs advantage overnight.More drama would unfold on Sunday: as Meeke left the startline of the first stage, Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre Kendal, a propshaft snapped and he lost 14secs to Gregg. Running in the Sunday Cup, Bourne was fastest from Bird, Gregg, Manning, Hill and Perez. With no spare propshaft, a makeshift repair was effected, but Meeke would have only two-wheel-drive for the rest of the day. Meeke's 53-second cushion - now cut to 39secs - did not look so secure but, following some delays while oil on the stage was cleared, the stage was cancelled . . . so Meeke could breathe again!Bourne was fastest on all of Sunday's stages - comfortably the Sunday Cup winner - and was clocked by GPS at 201kmh on the Kendal Straight, joint fastest with Meeke. 

Bird was now flying, second to Bourne on all but the final stage; despite snatching second place from Gregg after stage 14 at Stewart's Hill, however, and cutting the gap to Meeke from 44secs to 17secs, the win would not be his.Gregg held on for third, ahead of Perez - fourth for the third year in a row - as the local four-wheel-drive challenge had ended. Skeete's centre diff gave out, while Manning had been too far behind to benefit, so finished sixth. Fifth, and the highest-placed local driver, was SuperModified 10 winner Gill, with Hill seventh and Modified 8-A winner. In Group N, although Noel was faster than Champion on six of the nine stages that ran, with tenths being traded back and forth, the win went to Champion, eighth overall. 

The top 10 was completed by SM11 winners Jonathan Still and Heath Hazell (Hitachi Power Tools/Ocean Spray/Philips Lighting/Crane & Equipments/Castrol Oils BMW M3). From early, they had battled with Nick Gill and Sue Rogers (Castrol Syntec/Lysol/Listerine/Vita Malt/Hennessy/McEnearney Quality Inc Mazda 3), Still losing his early lead late afternoon Saturday, with no brakes for the last three stages. He was fastest on all but one of Sunday's, however, beating Gill by 14secs. In a moving moment at the Prize-giving, Still dedicated the win to close friend and rival Martin Stockdale: the only driver to have contested all eight Rally Carnivals, Stockdale had suffered a serious hand injury when his BMW M3 GTR dropped of its jacks during service and retired. Still and Hazell presented Stockdale and co-driver Mark Swallow with their trophies. 

The husband and wife crew of Adrian and Jackie Linton (Ravensden/Crane and Equipment/Garbage Gobbler/Morris Straker Construction/Subzero Vauxhall Astra GSi) won M7, while M6 winners were Karl Waterman and Sean Corbin (4W's/Aqua Pur/Flyin' Fish/Crane & Equipments Toyota Starlet), who inherited the lead from 4W's team-mates Ian Warren and Matthew Staffner (Peugeot 206) when their gearbox expired. 

James Betts/Dean Serrao (SM9 Makita/All Terrain Plus/Star Products/Champion Auto Wrecker/Kendal Sporting/Quik Start Auto Opel Corsa) and Neil Barnard/Barry Hill (Production 2 Simpson Motors/Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Yokohama Suzuki Ignis Sport) were the only other local crews to claim a Group victory, as the remaining four went to visitors from Europe: England's Andrew Costin-Hurley won Group B in the Earl's Performance/ARP/Posh Paintworks Ford Puma for the second year in a row, new co-driver Mike Lund claiming his first trophy in 11 years of rallying; fellow countryman Andy Carter, with Joanne Briggs as co-driver, won M5 in the Ebor Heating Services/John Hardman Engineering Vauxhall Nova after Scot Kenny Hall, co-driven by Fenny Wesselink from Holland, suffered a bent rear axle on the Simpson Motors/Car Parts4U/Halltune Garage Opel Corsa; Peter Gallagher from Ireland and local co-driver Dario Hoyte won P3 in the Dublin Crystal Peugeot 306 S16, while England's Steve Wood, also paired with a local co-driver, Leslie Evanson, won the historic class in his immaculate Austin Mini Cooper S. 

Sol Rally Barbados and Shell V-Power King of the Hill were elements of the eighth Barbados Rally Carnival. The title sponsor was Sol and associate sponsors and marketing partners were McEnearney Quality, Simpson Motors, Automotive Art, Banks Holdings, DaCosta Mannings Auto Centre, Digicel, Preconco, Nassco, Consolidated Finance, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Crane & Equipments, Little Switzerland, Armag, the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association and the Barbados Tourism Authority. 

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