With three months to go before their cars are due to be shipped from Portsmouth, rally teams across the United Kingdom are making preparations for their annual trip to the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International, Sol Rally Barbados 2016. Among more than 30 repeat visitors already entered, drivers Kenny Hall, Joe McQuillan and Simon Wallis and their co-drivers will have notched up more than 50 visits between them when they arrive this year.
The Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, Sol RB16 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 3 to 5, with Scrutineering and the King of the Hill ‘shakedown’ event the previous weekend, May 28 and 29. More than 70 entries have now been posted on the official web site, www.rallybarbados.net, almost three-quarters from overseas.
In Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, farmer Joe McQuillan’s Masserene Park Farms Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX has been undergoing some restorative work. With Scottish co-driver Sean Donnelly, ‘The Big Man’ enjoyed his best results last year on his fourth trip to Barbados, winning Group A on LIME King of the Hill, then finishing 12th overall on Sol RB15, narrowly losing the class to Rupert Lomax after a great battle over the weekend.
The five-time Mid Antrim Champion, who will be joined for a second year by Donnelly, told rallybarbados.net this week: “We’re looking forward to Rally Barbados. Once again, the Evo has been under major rebuild due to having a small off in Scotland last July. I’ve been out in a Subaru, but the Evo is really the car for me. Finishing 12th last year and winning the class at King of the Hill was a long time coming. This year, it will be full attack from the start, if the car behaves itself. I hope for a similar drive to 2015, possibly even quicker . . . hopefully the ‘luck of the Irish’ will play a part!”
Around 200 miles to the east, in the Scottish Borders, Kenny Hall has been working on his Ford Puma in readiness for his 14th visit to rally in the island; with family holidays added in, he has visited Barbados well over 20 times since his first trip in 2002. Co-driver Fenny Wesselink from the Netherlands, who is on her 11th trip to compete, also slotted in a family holiday in Barbados last October.
After three class wins in an Opel Corsa, the four-time Scottish class champion has not enjoyed the same success since he debuted his ex-works Ford Puma in 2010, when a wrong-slot in the Simpson Motors Super Special cost him an almost certain class victory. Problems have intervened since then, even last year when he finished third in Modified 6, only for the gearbox to shatter on the very last stage. He limped to the start of the Bushy Park Super Special, however, so did earn an overall classification.
This week he reported: “My flights have been booked since last year, and we’re looking forward to coming back. I’ve just rebuilt the gearbox and we put the engine in at the weekend; it’s not running yet, but I hope all goes to plan.”
Another 350 miles further south, in Cambridgeshire, computer specialist Simon Wallis is making ready his Cambridge Compilers Group N Subaru Impreza N10, last seen in Barbados in 2014. Sol RB16 will be Wallis’s 10th trip, the fourth in the N10 and his second with co-driver, Peter Horsman.
Wallis says: “Many of my most memorable rallies have taken place on islands: two trips to Mull, four to the Isle of Man and this year will be my 10th to Sol Rally Barbados.” Since his last visit, Wallis has ticked another iconic island rally off his checklist, Paperclix Rally Jersey – in October 2014, he finished fifth in the 4wd class, a creditable result for a first visit to an island where the narrow lanes often claim victims: “We were fortunate to get away with a single puncture, after hitting an unseen rock.”
After running as high as third before he lost fifth gear one stage from home, he claimed his career-best result as a driver two months later, fifth in the 2014 Rockingham Sunday Stages. Last August, after finishing second in Group N on the Tyneside Stages, things went wrong the Patriot Stages the following month: “The clutch bell-housing broke with a bang loud enough to startle the driver; the rally was over – a day to forget. Subaru specialists Autosportif Engineering have just repaired and refitted the Hewland gearbox, so we’re ready to go again.”
Sol Rally Barbados is a tarmac rally, with around 22 special stages run on the island’s intricate network of public roads, under road closure orders granted by the Ministry of Transport & Works; Sol RB16 and the previous Sunday’s King of the Hill ‘shakedown’ event, are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which will celebrate its 60th Anniversary in 2017. Sol RB16 marks the ninth year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest oil company.