A second consecutive victory in last weekend’s Sol Rally Barbados 2011 (June 4/5) – his 12th in the event’s 22-year history - further reinforced Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete’s reputation as the island’s top driver; with all 24 planned stages completed without major interruption, the organising Barbados Rally Club is celebrating a successful weekend.
After the results were made final yesterday afternoon, Skeete and co-driver Louis Venezia received their trophies from the Hon Stephen Lashley, Minister of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth, at a packed Prize-giving ceremony at The Boatyard on the outskirts of the island’s capital Bridgetown; they had dominated the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport international, winning by a margin of nearly 24 seconds.
Driving the One World Group/Michelin/Simpson Motors/Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Virgin Atlantic Subaru Impreza WRC S12, Skeete was fastest on all seven of Saturday morning’s stages, establishing a cushion of around 11 seconds by lunch; although his arch-rivals, fellow-countryman Paul Bourne and former UK National Rally Champion Paul Bird, each claimed two stage wins in the afternoon, Skeete had increased his advantage to nearly 14secs by nightfall.
Bird and Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick (Frank Bird Poultry Ford Focus WRC08) were second overnight, with Bourne and Ronald Plant (Banks/Chefette/MQI/Castrol Focus WRC07) third; on their first attack on the WRC class, 2010 Group N winners, England’s Rob Swann and Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod (Going Places Travel/Waves Barbados/Revolution Wheels/R A Swann Ltd Impreza WRC S12), were an impressive fourth, half-a-second ahead of former winners, Jamaicans Gary Gregg and Hugh Hutchinson in the BD Gregg & Bros Focus WRC 05. After a spin and stall on the day’s penultimate stage dropped them from fourth, Trinidad’s John Powell and Nicholas Telfer (Shell Helix/Intercontinental Shipping Impreza WRC S12) placed sixth.
On Sunday, Skeete continued to grow his advantage, although he was only fastest on five of the day’s 11 stages; afterwards, he said: “We had a spectacular weekend. We started with a completely different mindset, which allowed us to finish Saturday with a comfortable margin to build on on day two, which was easier than last year.”
Bourne moved to second just before lunch, after Bird ran off the road on the third Malvern, causing the Focus to overheat on the subsequent LIME Kendal stage. The top four were as last year, Bourne and Bird the other podium finishers, while a determined charge from Powell carried him back to fourth.
Swann was a delighted fifth – his ambition had been a top six finish, and he commented afterwards: “We had a great rally and will definitely be back with a WRC to get the job done!” Gregg retired mid-way through Sunday with mechanical issues, leaving sixth place to the local crew of Neil Armstrong and Barry Ward in the Lubriguard Oils/Hankook Tyres/Nassco Toyota Starlet.
From stage one, on which he was the faster of the two, Armstrong had been engaged in an enthralling battle for SuperModified 10 and overall two-wheel-drive honours with the Chefette/Automotive Art/Shell V-Power/Simpson Motors Suzuki Swift of brothers Ian and Robert Warren. Swapping stage wins back and forth, Warren had the advantage overnight by little more than a second.
On Sunday, Armstrong was on home ground – after losing out to Warren on the opening stage, he nailed four more stage wins to open up a near four-second advantage by lunch; on the afternoon’s first stage, the island’s fickle weather patterns played a role. Rain fell as Warren arrived to brake for a ninety-right, where he slid into the notorious ‘Malvern wall’. He noted: “The water was mid-way through the braking point. The battle with Neil wasn't finished, that's what I am most upset about.”
Armstrong finished sixth overall and highest-placed two-wheel-drive, but Warren was out of the overall running, having failed to finish that stage, with repairs necessary – the Swift was also struck by Brett Clarke’s Citroen C2 S1600 - but he did finish second in SM10. As Armstrong was also slowed by Warren’s incident, Cliff Roett and James Wilkie (Carters & Co/Lucky Horseshoe/Paulo’s Churasco Do Brasil/Roett’s Garage Toyota Starlet) picked up the first of two SM10 stage wins.
Mere tenths behind Armstrong at the finish was former UK National Champion Roger Duckworth, co-driven in the Intrinsys/Kumho/Autosportif Impreza WRC by Aled Davies; after anti-lag problems on Saturday, he got into his stride on Sunday, ending the day with a stage win at the Sol Aviation SuperSpecial. Having won a fully-paid entry to the event following his victory on Rallye Sunseeker National in February, Duckworth said: “We were probably too cautious on day one, but got faster. I was stunned by the pace of the locals, and the heat was really something. I have to see how the wife enjoyed her trip, then we'll see if I'll be back next year.”
The top 10 was completed by Mark Hamilton, Josh Read and Geoff Noel. Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX campaigners Hamilton/Clive Howell (First Caribbean International Bank/Consumer Guarantee Insurance/PowerMaster/Simpson Motors/Automotive Art) and Noel/Kreigg Yearwood (Globe Finance/Sentry Insurance Brokers/Mix 96.9/Automotive Art/Cargo Solution International/CIAC Airconditioners) were the leading Group N crews: Hamilton won all but one stage on Saturday and, despite only claiming one more win Sunday, had a sufficient cushion to clinch the class.
Read and co-driver Mark Jordan (Automotive Art/Baram Services/Weetabix Toyota Starlet) had been trailing Roger and Barry Mayers (Chefette/Digicel/Delaware Dispensary/Illusion Graphics/Quality Tyre Starlet) until the brothers crashed out on Saturday’s fifth stage, then were only twice beaten in SM9 by Clarke’s Citroen.
The 87 crews from 14 nations, including the host country, contested 16 classes: more than 40 set class stage-winning times, and no winner of a contested class can claim a perfect set of stage wins . . . and all this was played out in front of upwards of 20,000 spectators, who lined the six stage venues over the weekend, culminating in the floodlit Sol Aviation SuperSpecial at the island’s Bushy Park racetrack.
“Astonishing” was how British production company GreenlightTV’s producer Richard Nichols described his team’s first visit to the island’s premier event. He added: “I have not seen crowd reaction like that anywhere in the world . . . and I certainly did not expect that level of competition between those guys at the front of the field. They were on it, and I’ve never seen Paul Bird driving that hard – he obviously wants to win!”

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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