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Action-packed 10 hours at the Vaucluse Raceway

Just one-tenth of a second decided the outcome of the Group Winner's Handicap KnockOut on Saturday (May 27) as the Red Bull International RallySprint brought the curtain down on the Vaucluse Raceway RallySprint Cup 2006. In a thrilling finale, which had the cheering crowd on its feet, outgoing triple champion Sean Gill handed his crown to the man who has dominated the standings all season, Tristan Gibbs.

Nearly ten hours of gripping track action at the St Thomas facility provided drama aplenty, with the local championship battle only one focus of attention; the event marked the debut of new cars for Gill (Suzuki Swift) and Nick Gill (Mazda 3), the return of Trevor Manning's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII, and a strong British contingent, headed by the 2005 Ford Focus World Rally Car of Steve Perez and the thundering Subaru Impreza of Kevin Procter.

In the first International event to run under the Vaucluse Raceway's new floodlit format, the encounter between Gill and Gibbs ran off at just before 9.30pm, the last of 40 races on the programme, which had started at 10.30am with the first of nearly 140 qualifying runs.

For Gibbs, driving the Rent-a-Tool/Scorpion Liners/Boyss Ltd/Algae X/Corrosion Block/Surfside Gym Toyota Starlet Turbo, it was his third Handicap KnockOut Final of the season, the additional points gained for dispensing with his opponents in the Handicap having played an important part in his Cup success.

On Saturday, he first defeated Neil Barnard (Simpson Motors/Shell Helix/Automotive Art Suzuki Ignis Sport), then Brett Clarke (Simpson Motors/Shell Helix/Plus Suzuki Swift) and finally Adrian Linton (Ravensden/Crane & Equipment/Garbage Gobbler/West Coast Garden Centre/Edwin Clarke Furniture Vauxhall Astra GSi).

Giving the stunning new Simpson Motors/Shell Helix/Automotive Art Suzuki Swift its competition debut, Gill has defeated Neil Corbin (Nassco/CAC Enterprises Toyota Starlet) and Paul Bourne (Warrens Motors/Plus Subaru Impreza WRC) on his way to face Gibbs.

The handicap for Gill was nine seconds, so the red and white Toyota of Gibbs was out of sith by the time Gill left the start pad; by the mid-point, there had been no significant reduction in the gap, so Gill had it all to do on lap two. He closed steadily on Gibbs, particularly through the last few turns, and the cars crossed the line in what looked like a dead heat. It took some moments for the timekeepers to confirm that Gibbs's front wheels had hit the timing hose just one-tenth of a second before Gill's, giving him a clean sweep of Handicap Final wins this season.

Bourne claimed the fastest time of the day, at 2m 04.58s; although that was around three seconds shy of Manning's lap record, with 10 four-wheel-drive cars in action, Modified 8 produced some classic races, two involving England's Kevin Procter, racing at Vaucluse for the third time.

First, he defeated fellow-Brit Andrew Johnson who, although outclassed in his production-spec Subaru Impreza, had impressed many with his pace on a track he had never seen; that set up a clash between Procter and Perez. Despite the difference in the age and specification of their cars, they had ended the day's qualifying sessions just 11/100ths of a second apart, Perez the faster, so a close race was in prospect . . . and so it proved.

There was little to choose between them until the second lap, when Procter's aggressive driving style resulted in contact with the tyre wall on the eastern side of the bridge, which tore of some body parts and; even so, he made it to the line just inches ahead of Perez, who had endeared himself to the crowd, carrying red and blue lighted wheel rims on his Focus.

Afterwards, Perez said: "I've had a brilliant time, I think this track is fantastic - I've just got to learn it. I'd like to do another six or seven runs now!"

Procter's crew tore the remains of the damaged bumper off the Impreza, then returned to the start pad to run against Manning, the lap record-holder very pleased with the changes made to the Simpson Motors/Shell Helix/Automotive Art Evo VIII. Despite another very determined drive, Procter could not quite pull this one off, crossing the line just two seconds behind Manning.

So Manning went head-to-head with Bourne to decide the Group winner; with the crowd's shouts and cheers carrying across the hills of St Thomas, these two experienced campaigners were neck-and-neck, until Manning missed a couple of gear changes, Bourne reaching the chequered flag just inches ahead.

Procter's incident was the least damaging of a number on the day; the worst of these befell Roger Hill, who rolled out of contention in the Group semi-final against Bourne - Hill walked back to the pits uninjured, but the Toyota Celica GT4 looked seriously damaged, possibly calling into question his participation in next weekend's Rally Barbados 2006.

No drivers were injured, but the casualty list of cars included Josh Read's Toyota Starlet and Mark Hamilton's Ford Escort MkII, both of which connected with a tyre wall and Simon Gilmore's Peugeot 205, which slid down a bank after spinning; there were mechanical woes for some, too, including a driveshaft problem for the Escort of Andrew Jones and clutch failure for Nick Gill's Mazda 3. With RB'06 just days away, the island's workshops will be busy.

Among the highlights of the two-wheel-drive groups was the Modified 6 final between Ian Warren (Peugeot 206GTi) and England's Dominic Worsfold (Ford Fietsa XR2), which Warren won by just two-tenths; on his debut at Vaucluse, Worsfold had been close to matching the local ace's times throughout the day, and earned the Pig'n'Likka Driver of the Day Award for his efforts.

There was also a strong British challenge in Modified 5, where Paul McMullan was within a second of the pace of James Betts (Opel Corsa), despite not having rallied his borrowed Proton Satria before.

Crowd favourites Jonathan Still and England's Martin Stockdale in their BMW M3s faced off in the SuperModified 12 Final, with Still claiming the honours; at the prize-giving which followed the day's activities, with the awards provided courtesy of D Blades Trophies, Still announced that they would be carrying forward their friendly rivalry into a cricket match at The Boatyard on Sunday.

The Red Bull International RallySprint is organised by the Vaucluse Raceway Motorsport Club; it is the third and final round of the VRW RallySprint Cup 2006. The second Carnival event is Rally Barbados 2006 (June 3/4), organised by the Barbados Rally Club (BRC); it is rounds three and four of the Texaco BRC Rally Championship and organised in association with Armstrong Agencies, Automotive Art Shell, Da Costa Mannings Autocentre, Digicel, DMS, McEnearney Quality, Red Bull, Simpson Motors and Texaco West Indies. The event is supported by The Boatyard, J E Security Systems & Services, Nassco, Office Solutions & Systems, SBI Distribution and Stoute's Car Rental.

Remaining key dates for Barbados Rally Carnival 2006

Thursday, June 1 - Rally Barbados 2006 shakedown
Saturday, June 3 - Rally Barbados 2006, day 1
Sunday, June 4 - Rally Barbados 2006, day 2
Monday, June 5 - Rally Barbados 2006 prize-giving, The Boatyard

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