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American motor sport star Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino won Sol Rally Barbados at their first attempt in a Ford Fiesta Rally2


Weather creates testing conditions for postponed event

American motor sport star Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino claimed a memorable victory in Sol Rally Barbados 2020 at the weekend (October 31/November 1), defeating not only three of the event’s most successful drivers of recent years, but also the elements . . . and doing so from the fast-growing FIA R5 class. Postponed from its regular June date because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 31st running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event was hit by frequent and heavy rain showers, which made for treacherous conditions, testing drivers to the full.

Campaigning a brand-new EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 with support from Ford Performance and Monster Energy, which he had driven for only a few hours on Thursday – and that was his first drive in a Fiesta R5 for 15 months – Block dispelled the doubts of the naysayers with a masterly drive. On stage at the Vaucluse Raceway Prizegiving, he said: “It was a really great event with great competition. What struck me more was the atmosphere; it was brilliant with the competitors and all the fans.”

Having led overnight Saturday, Britain’s Rob Swann and Darren Garrod slipped back to an eventual second, their fourth in the island, in the Blue Sky Luxury/Marriott All-Inclusive Ford Fiesta WRC while Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell Jnr (Rubis/Sandals/KIG Fiesta WRC) finished third, losing an almost certain sixth victory in the event to a broken axle three stages from home. Last year’s winners Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew, who were seeded at 1 in the Sol/CO Williams Sand & Lime/Automotive Art Subaru Impreza WRC S12, endured mechanical issues throughout, retiring from fourth place after 13 stages.

Swann said: “I was consistent with good rhythm on day one. On Sunday, the mistakes came from pushing too hard and I went off twice. We were fast enough all weekend to do it but it's my fault I didn't manage it.” For Panton, the emotions were different: “This was the comeback after last year, and to have a mechanical failure cause us to lose it was disappointing, it really stings! On day 1, with all the weather and rain, I was tentative whether to push or not; the mental battle was big to be more committed. I dug deep again Sunday and am still proud of what I achieved to get into the lead. Then I tried to be sensible and not look for stage wins but to manage the lead.”

Despite frequent heavy rainstorms which are common at this time of year, thousands of fans turned out over the weekend, their regular rally equipment – tents, chairs, barbecues, coolers – supplemented by gardening tools to cut back the stage-side bush which proliferates in the rainy season, and umbrellas used to shelter from the rain, rather than as sunshades. And they were treated to an epic competition, with five different rally leaders, six drivers setting fastest stage times and a final sting in the tail just a few kilometres from the finish.

Rainfall just half an hour before the start of Automotive Art Halton to Drax Hall, the first and longest stage, at 8.1 kilometres, had crews agonising over tyre choice at the Bushy Park Barbados Service Park. By the time the Car Zero, driven by RB05 winner Roger Mayers, entered the stage, however, the rain had stopped leaving slippery tarmac and patches of standing water.

Fastest on the opening test was Andrew Mallalieu, co-driven in his Terra Caribbean Ford Fiesta R5 by Geoff Goddard, four-tenths quicker than Skeete. The leading European driver of recent years, Swann was third, 1sec behind Skeete and just over three ahead of island crew Stuart Maloney and Kristian Yearwood, who had won the FIA R5 class at Flow KotH in the Rock Hard Cement/Bushy Park Barbados Skoda Fabia R5. Fifth were Roger Hill and Graham Gittens in the Esso/MaxMeyer Paints/Motormac/DJ’s Fabia R5, with Block and Gelsomino sixth, leading Panton by six tenths; this was the stage (albeit last year on Sunday morning) on which Panton had a huge accident and he admitted later that he was finding it hard to commit on faster sections.

Mallalieu was fastest on the notoriously slippery 4.60km Dark Hole to Spring Vale, too, this time by a far greater margin (5.5secs) from Skeete, with Hill third, Panton fourth, Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho fifth, with local co-driver Barry Ward in the Subway/Motul Fiesta R5, and Block sixth. Panton claimed his first stage win on the 4km Wilson Hill to Malvern, but Mallalieu still led at the end of the first loop, as Skeete lost the Impreza’s launch control, costing time and leaving him 10th on the stage. Behind Mallalieu were the R5 Skodas of Hill and Maloney, then the three WRC class cars of Skeete, Panton and Swann, with Block outside the top six for the only time all rally.

While there had been more rain, the second loop started in better conditions and a determined Skeete got down to the task in hand, winning the Halton and Dark Hole stages to assume the lead, initially ahead of Mallalieu. Swann moved up to second by the lunch halt, 4.5s behind Skeete, with his first stage win of the weekend on the second Malvern, while an increasingly confident Panton was now third, within three-tenths of Panton; Malallieu, Block and Maloney completed the top six.

After the lunch break and more rain, Skeete brought his stage wins total to three on the third Halton, was fourth on the third Dark Hole, but disaster struck on the day’s final Malvern stage: an axle broke, costing time and dropping him to sixth, 18s behind new leader Swann, who had won the final stage to lead Panton by 3.3s. Block was now third, 11.3s behind Panton, having won the third Dark Hole stage, but at the head of trio battling for R5 supremacy, just nine-tenths covering himself, Maloney and Mallalieu.

Sunday brought more of the same weather, downpours on the Bawdens to Rock Hall, Automotive Art Mt Brevitor to Four Hills and Lamberts to Mt Poyer stages making stage set-up for marshals and access for spectators a huge challenge, resulting in the start time from the Greenland Agricultural Station being put back by 15 minutes. Panton was more settled on these more technical stages, winning the first two by three- and four-second margins, then finishing third on Lamberts to lead by 20s after first loop. Block was at then sharp end, too, moving up to second behind Panton, with Skeete also now ahead of Swann who made a few errors, the gap to Panton now 23s. T&T’s Coelho moved into the top six, 25s behind Mallalieu after winning the first Lamberts.

Disappointed with slipping back, Swann got his head down in the second loop, winning the first two, albeit not by huge margins, to move ahead of Skeete, whose rally ended on the second Mt Brevitor with a puncture and second axle failure. Panton claimed his fourth stage win on the last stage before lunch, leading by 18s, with Block now 7s ahead of Swann. Skeete said: “I was quite disappointed when the launch control went and I knew it would be a fight from there. The last run through Kendal I did well with no launch control but taking many risks which wasn't sustainable. Once the axle broke Saturday the aim was to claw back into contention, which we were doing until a puncture and another broken axle on Sunday brought it to an end.”

The final Bawdens stage was abandoned to claw back some time lost to earlier incidents, so just three stages remained. On the third run through Mt Brevitor, Panton’s Fiesta WRC broke an axle, costing him almost his entire overall advantage, Block starting the penultimate stage six-tenths behind Panton, 7s ahead of Swann. Panton lost more time to his damaged car on the last Lamberts, promoting Block into the lead and Swann to second, before the final 2km dash from Dukes to the Vaucluse Raceway, Block winning the last two stages. Taking Sunday in isolation, as he got faster by the stage, Block was the winner by 24s from Swann, Hill, Coelho, Panton and Mallalieu.

Mallalieu and Goddard were the first local finishers in fourth place, with Hill claiming his 22nd top 10 finish in the island’s premier event and Coelho completing the top six. In his first Sol RB in a 4wd car, Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Rally Team, with double British Rally Champion Matt Edwards (Java Island/HO2 Construction/Sky Motorsports Fiesta R5) co-driving, finished seventh, Sol RB newcomer Suleman Esuf eighth, with Justin Campbell forsaking his regular BMW M3 for the co-driver’s seat of the Express Imports/SY Adam & Son/Prosales/Y Esuf Auto Clinic Fiesta R5, and Maloney ninth, the final finisher in R5, the only class in which all cars that started finished.

The top 10 was completed by Andrew Jones and Lindsey Pilkington in the Herr’s Chips/AP Jones Pharmacy/Southern Surf Beach Apartments/Kepro Veterinary Solutions/Gales Agro/Weetabix/Java Island Coffee/Weetabix/The Shore Club Turks & Caicos/Hankook Ford Escort MkII. Winning SuperModified 2, the driver’s fifth class win, they were also the top placed 2wd crew after what had promised to be a good battle failed to materialise. Top 2wd for two of the last three years, Barry Mayers and Ben Norris (Chefette/Rubis/Quality Tyre/Sign Depot Ford Fiesta) failed to start with a throttle sensor issue, but returned to win the Sunday Cup; they were swapping times all day with Jones, who was 10s ahead at the finish - an indication of what might have been. The other contenders would have been Rhett Watson and Bradley Weekes in the Chefette/Stihl/Gliptone/Gunk/Leafy Organics/Hankook Tyres/Bajan Pure Water/Power King Batteries BMW M3, but the oil pump belt jumped off on SS4, dropping them out of the overall running. Jones said: “I was looking forward to the battle with Barry. With fresh rubber I was on a charge from the get-go, looking to set competitive times. Once Rhett retired, the aim was to get a top 10 finish. There was a lot of pressure from Fraser Louden so I had fight back while still being within myself to make it to the finish.”

There were mixed fortunes for the overseas visitors: Howard Paterson and Sean Kukula collected the trophy for Highest-Placed Overseas Rwd, winning Clubman 3 in the Little Bristol Beach Bar/Paradise Surf School/Rallydrive Automotive Mazda RX-8, after their only opposition Greg Cozier and Natasha Farnum in the Perkins & Son Barbados Rum/Tropical Shipping/Westlake Tyres/Barbados Port Inc BimmaCup Too, dropped out on Saturday with a broken propshaft bracket. Alone in Group N, Chris Surman and Zowie Boiston (Warmstyle Motorsport/Top Performance Services/Ignition Motor Sport/Syvecs Subaru Impreza) also collected winners’ trophies.

After the engine in their Historic Class Competition Supplies/Westgate Tyres & Exhaust/Scotty’s Cheap Car Hire/Coconut Court Beach Hotel/Udale’s Quality Meats Toyota Corolla had been rebuilt by local engineers in time for Flow KotH, Simon Nutter and wife Fiona ran strongly early on, only for the engine to let go again on Saturday’s fifth stage, when they were running 25th overall.

Finally, one corner from home and in sight of the finish marshals, Scotland’s Fraser Louden and Ashleigh Will struck the Vaucluse Raceway chicane in the EV Offshore Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Proto costing the driver what would have been his fourth – and highest - overall finish in four visits. His was one of two final stage disasters: local crew Stuart Garcia and Rasheed Smith (Kirba Inc/Smith’s Engineering Works/GuavaTech BimmaCup) had led Clubman 2 throughout, but broke a driveshaft on the start-line of the final stage into Vaucluse, which handed victory to Sol RB newcomer Sacha Soodeen, competing in his first Sol RB with experienced co-driver Dwayne Forde.


Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB20 marks the 13th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the fifth by communications provider Flow.


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