A record 100 crews, representing 14 countries, will assemble shortly to contest the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international, Sol Rally Barbados 2011 (June 4/5). The provisional entry list was published by the organising Barbados Rally Club (BRC) during a media conference today (Monday) at the Hilton Hotel in the island’s capital Bridgetown.

After entries for the 20th Anniversary running of the BRC’s premier event were 20 per cent oversubscribed last year – this, despite the prevailing economic climate – Club officials opted to increase the maximum entry cap from 90 to 100 to accommodate the growing interest, a decision that has been vindicated.

 Sol Rally Barbados Chairman Barry Gale told the assembled media: “I thought that last year’s response from competitors was amazing; well, that word apparently has a long shelf life as it relates to Sol Rally Barbados, because 2011 has been even better! We had made a particular effort from early to target interesting two-wheel-drive cars from Europe, an initiative that has certainly paid off.

 “We have a new bunch of trophies for the top 10 two-wheel-drive cars, and the highest-placed front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive overseas crews will have their entry fees reimbursed . . . and I’m glad to say that, of the 16 cars that qualify, eight are newcomers to the event, and they’re bringing some really different and exciting cars.”

 Among those newcomers are Australia’s Paul Darrouzet and Germany’s Berndt Kneupfer; not only are they the first competitors from their respective countries to tackle the BRC’s premier event, but each arrives with an unusual car, Darrouzet’s a rare 5-litre V8 Ford Capri Perana, while Kneupfer’s turbocharged Opel Astra OPC is one of only two two-wheel-drive cars homologated to run in the FIA’s N4 category.

 Sol RB2011 starts a second three-year title sponsorship deal with the Sol Group, the region’s largest independent oil company, operating in 17 countries across the Caribbean Basin. Representing the Group, Andrew Niles, General Manager of Sol (Barbados) Ltd, said: “Over the past three years, we have worked with the Club and continue to see amazing results from this partnership. Sol Rally Barbados attracts thousands of fans, scores of local and overseas journalists and plenty of tourists to our shores. Sol is happy to be able to contribute to the overall development of Barbados in this way.”

 Once again, the battle for overall supremacy is wide open, although the locals have strength in numbers: 11-time winner of the island’s premier event – including in 2010 – Roger Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC S12) surely starts as favourite, but the opposition is strong, led by another former winner (2003 and ‘07) Paul Bourne, recently reunited with his Ford Focus WRC07 for the first time since Sol RB2010.

 Jamaica’s Gary Gregg is another previous winner on the list; he won in 2006 and finished third in ‘05 and ‘08 in his previous Ford Focus WRC02, but did not enjoy the same fortune last year, when he finished outside the top 10 in his newer WRC05.

 Locals Sean Gill (Suzuki SX4 WRC) – winner in 1996, as co-driver to Ireland’s Kenny McKinstry - and Roger Hill (Toyota Corolla WRC) are certain to remain near the front, even once the overseas crews arrive, while Trinidad-based Jamaican John Powell’s record – second in ’05 and ’07 in Toyota Corolla WRCs, fourth last year in his current Impreza S12 – puts him right in the mix.

 A third S12 will be campaigned by England’s Rob Swann, the only driver to have won Group N in Barbados and Jamaica in the same year (2010), while former UK National Champions Paul Bird (Ford Focus WRC08), a top three finisher each time he’s competed here, and Roger Duckworth (Impreza WRC), who makes his first trip courtesy of the BRC and the Barbados Tourism Authority, as his prize for winning Rallye Sunseeker National back in February, are unlikely to be too far off the pace.

 As before, the overseas entries spread right through the field – only three of the 15 classes will be without a battle between local and overseas drivers – while the entry is also notable for the presence of the first local all-female crew to tackle the island’s premier event; Shannon Kirton and co-driver Lisa Roett contest the new Clubman class.

Sol Rally Barbados 2011 provisional entry headline statistics:
+ 100 crews on the provisional entry list, a record for the event
+ drivers or co-drivers from 14 nations (including Barbados), with Australia and Germany represented for the first time
+ 40 International drivers or co-drivers, 20 new to the event
+ 13 drivers or co-drivers from the wider Caribbean, three new to the event
+ 10 female competitors, one driver, nine co-drivers
+ cars from 16 manufacturers, Ford the best-represented with 21, followed by Toyota (19), Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Subaru (9 each) and BMW (8)

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 and Sagicor.

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