Sol Rally Barbados 2023: closest finish for 20 years

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courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Roger Mayers and Barry Ward (Toyota WR Starlet) take flight on their way to fastest 2wd and eighth overall
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, First-time Sol Rally Barbados competitor Jamaica's Horatio Brown won Modified 1 in his Citroen C2R2 with Bajan co-driver Leslie Evanson
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Jason Cozier and James Hutchinson were at all angles on the way to SuperModified 1 victory in their Ford Escort MkI
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Transit routes between the closed-road special stages took competitors through some picturesque scenery
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Jason Cozier and James Hutchinson were at all angles on the way to SuperModified 1 victory in their Ford Escort MkI
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Defending Champions Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew gave their all in the familiar Subaru Impreza WRC S12
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, Stuart Maloney and Kristian Yearwood finished third in their Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard (Hyundai i20 R5) added victory in Sol RB23 to the previous weekend's First Citizens King of the Hill win
courtesy Barbados Rally Club/Gerrard Wilson, The podium at Bushy Park on Sunday evening. From left: Dane Skeete, Tyler Mayhew, John Kennard, Sol's Brian Cadogan, Hayden Paddon, Kristian Yearwood, Stuart Maloney

Sol Rally Barbados 2023: closest finish for 20 years

New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard won last weekend’s (June 9-11) Sol Rally Barbados 2023 after an epic battle with defending champions Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew. Lying second going into the last of 20 special stages, the Honda SuperSpecial at Bushy Park Barbados, the Kiwis turned a 1.2-second deficit into victory by just 0.88s, the smallest winning margin for more than 20 years.

  Not since 2001 has the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event been won by less than one second; ironically Skeete’s father Roger and Dave Crawford had the upper hand that day, beating Trevor Manning and Michael Ward by 0.16s, the eighth of Skeete’s record 13 victories. From 2002, the stage mileage almost doubled, making narrow margins much less likely.

  Stuart Maloney and Kristian Yearwood (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) completed the podium, nearly 55 seconds adrift of the winners, having prevailed in an enthralling tussle for supremacy among the front-runners in the R5 Rally Championship presented by First Citizens, five of whom finished in the top 10. Roger Mayers and Barry Ward finished eighth overall and top 2wd in their Toyota WR Starlet.

  Home for a mid-season break from his FIA Formula 2 campaign, 2022 First Citizens King of the Hill winner Zane Maloney won the opening floodlit Sol SuperSpecial at Bushy Park on Friday night, which ran on the Race Of Champions course two cars at a time; driving a Fabia Rally2 evo, he was exactly 1sec faster than Skeete (Subaru Impreza WRC S12), with Paddon (Hyundai i20 R5) another quarter-second back.

  Maloney’s lead did not last long, however, as he speared off the first 4.1-kilometre Dark Hole stage on Saturday morning and across some open ground into a ditch; while the 19-year-old and co-driver Kreigg Yearwood were uninjured, the car needed repairs, so they returned on Sunday to entertain the fans with some flamboyant driving.

  Paddon was more than 5secs faster than Skeete on that first test, then won the remaining eight for the day as the route looped through Chefette Sailor Gully (4.0km) and the weekend’s longest stage, Pickering (7.6km). The Hyundai led by 14.6s by the end of the day, Skeete in turn 26s ahead of five-time winner Jamaica’s Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell Jnr (Fabia Rally2 evo); they were ahead in the local R5 battle, with Maloney a couple of seconds behind and fellow-Jamaican Kyle Gregg third, with local co-driver Orry Hunte in his Ford Fiesta Rally2, all three having set fastest times.

  There was a four-second spread across sixth to eighth at bedtime, Rob Swann and Tom Woodburn (Fabia R5) and Kevin Procter and Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000T) fighting for the ‘Top Brit’ accolade, with the island’s Roger Hill and Graham Gittens (Fabia R5) tucked in behind; the leading 2wd runner Roger Mayers was ninth and brother Barry 10th, with Ben Norris co-driving his Fiesta.

  The rally was turned on its head first thing Sunday morning, when a high-speed spin for Paddon on the 6.1km Banks Padmore stage cut his advantage to just 1.7s; Skeete was fastest from Panton, with Paddon 15th. Skeete was faster than the Kiwi on the first runs through Automotive Art Kendal (7.3km) and Carter’s Malvern (6.3km) and the second Padmore to build his cushion to 2.9s and, while Paddon beat him on the second Kendal, another stage win on Malvern put him 3.5s ahead at lunch.

  Paddon won all three stages in the final loop to set up the finale at Bushy Park, where SuperSpecials are never a happy hunting ground for the Subaru and Skeete, who said: “I'm a bit devastated that we didn't get that top spot but Hayden is a professional and he showed that in these last couple of stages; we did everything that we could for the whole weekend but it just wasn't enough. Second place feels like second place, it doesn't matter who it's to, but I would try to take comfort from the fact that he is a pro.”

  On his first time in the Caribbean, Paddon had enjoyed himself: “I love the rally, the stages have been fun and challenging and there's a lot of enthusiasm for rallying and that's cool to see, that's why we love our sport. Today we had a very good battle with Dane but made life difficult for ourselves with the big spin on the first stage. We struggled to catch the time back as Dane did an awesome job and we had to push a lot on the last few stages and had a few moments.”

  The battle for the final step of the podium swung Maloney’s way on Sunday morning, two stage wins in the first loop moving him ahead of Panton, who then lost more time with a puncture on the last Malvern before lunch. Maloney said: “Saturday wasn't the greatest, as we never really settled in. In the evening we made some changes, so I went into Sunday with more confidence and was able to set fast stage times to stay in the top three. It was an amazing weekend and the club did a great job.”

  Claiming their 11th and 12th top 10 finishes respectively, Swann finished fifth, while Procter snatched sixth thanks to a mighty effort on the final stage after an entertaining battle with Gregg, who finished just 1.59s behind. With 2wd winner Mayers eighth, the top 10 was completed by Hill, securing his 24th top 10 result in his 33 years in the event, and Britain’s Roger Duckworth and Stuart Loudon (Fiesta R5).

  Mayers was a happy man: “This result means a lot, as my last finish was 2016 and there were a lot of reliability issues from them. This has been the first true showing of the car on some nice dry roads and now it has shown that it is reliable, I could now focus on other areas like handling which has led to this finish today. I became one with the car and in love with the car; they ask me when I'm going to R5 but I'm not going anywhere as I'm in love with RPM.”

  Also the winner of SuperModified 2, Mayers was the fastest 2wd on all 20 stages, brother Barry an early casualty on Sunday morning with an engine fire, which promoted Logan Watson and Andrew Croney (BMW M3) and Suleman Esuf and Justin Harris (BMW 1M) to second and third. Esuf dropped out of the running after the first loop with a suspension issue, however, bringing Andrew Jones and Leslie Pilkington (Ford Escort MkII) into the picture, third in 2wd . . . which became second and 16th overall a couple of stages from home when Watson retired with a broken axle.

  For the second year in a row, Neil Corbin and Matthew Staffner finished third in 2wd, also winning Modified 2 in their Toyota GT6 CS-R3, 17th overall. With Watson and Esuf out, only the latter’s brother Ahmed and co-driver Ryan Ali (BMW M3) were left, so they claimed the Modified 3 win, celebrating with a colourful display of donuts for the huge Bushy Park crowd.

  Modified 4 was won by local crew Mark Thompson and Kurt Seabra (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), who were uncharacteristically off the pace on Saturday, thanks to a broken boost hose which left them with no turbo for a few stages and 19th overnight; with a repair effected, Sunday was better and they finished 13th overall.

  There was to be no 11th class win for reigning BRC Champion Driver Edward Corbin and Johnathan Alleyne (Daihatsu Charmant). Running a solid 21st overall overnight, an incurable misfire left them stranded after Sunday’s first stage, handing the M1 class lead to Rally Barbados first-timer Jamaican Horatio Brown and Bajan co-driver Leslie Evanson, who finished an impressive 19th overall in their diminutive Citroen C2R2.

  Another crew handed an unexpected class win were Jason Cozier and James Hutchinson in the Ford Escort MkI Cozier had acquired only a few weeks before the event; determined simply to enjoy himself, never comparing times with others, second in SM1 suddenly became the lead when Tremaine Forde-Catwell and Shane Haynes (Charmant) found the famous Malvern Wall and retired when lying 21st overall. Cozier won the class by over two minutes from Roger Jordan and Ian Griffith (Starlet), also returning to the event after some years.

  The smallest winning margin in the classes came in Clubman 2, which also attracted the largest entry of 14 BimmaCup cars. With evenly-matched cars, the battle was fierce, Derek Edwards and Damien Johnson eventually emerging on top by 0.99s from brothers Ian and Robert Warren, with Chris Hoad and Castara Waterman third.

  The historic classes were less well-supported this year. Harold Morley and Mutamuliza Cutting (Porsche 911) retired on Saturday leaving regular British visitors Chris Shooter and Bev LeGood (Escort MkII) to a lonely victory in Historic 2, a stark comparison to their hard-fought win last year. The lone starter in H1, Ireland’s Mick Smith in his Sunbeam Imp co-driven by Cameron Barclay, had some issues during Sunday but made a triumphant return for the SuperSpecial.

  Other overseas visitors to return home with trophies are: America’s George Sherman (Evo XI), second in M4 with Trinidad and Tobago co-driver Scott Pinheiro; British crews Nigel Worswick and Sophie Louise Buckland (Escort MkII), second in SM2, Andrew Costin-Hurley and Rob Brook (Ford Puma Cosworth), second in Group B, Andy Scott and Laura Connell (Fiesta S2000T), third in WRC.

  After dropping out of the overall running when his Fabia Rally2 evo left the road on Saturday’s first Sailor Gully, with no injury to himself or co-driving son Justin, Mark Maloney returned to win the Sunday Cup, also collect points in the R5 Championship. They comfortably beat the SM2 Honda Civic of Kurt Thompson and Adam Straker, with Chris Ullyett and Canadian-born daughter Chantal (M2 Escort RS2000) third.

  After the results were made final yesterday (Monday), the Prizegiving at The Boatyard beach bar in the island’s capital, Bridgetown, was well-attended with trophies presented by The Hon Charles Griffith MP, Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment and others, including Brian Cadogan, the General Manager of Sol Barbados and Kamal Springer, Sports Director of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.

  Among the evening’s special awards, two were received by overseas visitors: Scotland’s Laura Connell collected her second Highest-placed Female Co-driver trophy for finishing 12th overall. Marking his 21st participation in the event, Martin Stockdale, who won Group B with Graeme Wood, also became the first recipient of the Owen Cumberbatch Award, to be presented annually to the highest-placed BMW driver in memory of the popular competitor and wrecker driver who died earlier this year; Stockdale immediately gifted this first award to Owen’s children.

  In the same sequence of awards, Barbadian Natya Soodeen received the Highest-placed Female Driver Award, while the Spirit of the Rally Award, which was introduced for the first time last year, was presented to the executive of the Roving Response Team, who play such a vital role in the safe and smooth running of island events.

Sol Rally Barbados (June 9-11) is a tarmac rally, with 20 special stages run on the island’s intricate network of public roads, under road closure orders granted by the Ministry of Transport, Works & Water Resources; First Citizens King of the Hill (June 4) runs under a similar arrangement and features four timed runs on a four-kilometre stage, the results of which are used to seed the running order for Sol RB23.

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