Flow King of the Hill winners Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew

Huge crowds attend final Sol RB20 shakedown at Stewart’s Hill

Dane Skeete and Tyler Mayhew started their 2020 motor sport campaign in fine style yesterday (Sunday) with victory in Flow King of the Hill, beating Jamaica’s Jeff Panton by just four-hundredths of a second, the smallest winning margin in the 13-year history of the event. Having led after the first of four timed runs, Britain’s Rob Swann finished third, while Barry Mayers claimed two-wheel-drive honours, sixth overall.

  In glorious sunshine, thousands of fans headed to the south-east corner of the island to line the 3.3-kilometre route from Golden Grove to Stewart’s Hill, with Covid protocols much in evidence as the crowd followed the advice of the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) to Stay Safe, Stay Sanitized, Stay Distanced, Stay Masked, Stay Alert & Spectate Safely. To the accompaniment of ZR van-style horns, Roger Mayers and co-driver Sean Corbin warmed up the crowd in Car Zero ahead of the 42 competitors, who ran in reverse order of seeding, from Clubman up to WRC.

  Reunited with his former co-driver, Welshman Darren Garrod, Swann was quick out of the box in the Blue Sky Luxury/Marriott All-Inclusive Ford Fiesta WRC, clocking 1 minute 44.96 seconds on the first run, which started at around 10.30am, a few minutes later than planned, the huge crowd on the Thicketts Straight kept entertained by a Transport Board bus negotiating the chicane.

  With Jason Cozier in the co-driver’s seat of the Rubis/Sandals/KIG Fiesta WRC, Panton was a little hesitant on his first run, more than 3secs slower than Swann (1:48.20), while Skeete split the two Fiestas in the Sol/CO Williams Sand & Lime/Automotive Art Subaru Impreza WRC S12, seven-tenths slower than Swann (1:45.68).

  While Swann only improved by a few tenths on his second run, Skeete found nearly 3secs to move into the lead with a time of 1:42.92, which was to be his best of the day, while Panton also made a significant improvement to close to within 1sec of Swann. A light rain shower affected all three front-runners on the third run,so it was all down to the final run. Neither Skeete nor Swann improved, but Panton pulled out all the stops, finding just over 2secs to finish on 1:42.96, four-hundredths adrft; while Panton had tied for victory with Simon Jean-Joseph in 2016, the smallest winning margin to date had come the previous year, when Skeete’s father Roger had driven the Impreza S12 to beat Panton’s previous Focus WRC by five-hundredths.

  Ahead of the Prizegiving at Bushy Park, Skeete said: “I really wanted to get a gauge against the newer cars in the first run. The plan was to be consistent and make it to the end. It came down to four-hundredths of a second, so it seems next week will be a long fight which I'm looking forward to.” Apprehensive as he headed to Barbados, Panton ended the day happy: “My expectations were high, but then I realized that I wasn't too committed after being hesitant in some corners which are usually flat. A review of data showed it up too, so I dug a little deeper and gave it all. I was super happy with the last run.” Swann was happy, too: “It's good to have Darren back, as we haven't done an event together in a while, but I had to build some confidence after not running the car since August. I think we had good speed as we tinkered with set-up to find the right balance, considering next week's technical stages which are a bit dirty.”

  In an encouraging omen for Sol Rally Barbados 2020, there were two more cut-and-thrust class battles within the top 10, as the record entry of six FIA R5 cars fought among themselves for supremacy, but also for overall position against a well-matched group of SuperModified 2 runners. Clocking 1:48.48, Roger Hill (Esso/MaxMeyer Paints/Motormac/DJ’s Skoda Fabia R5) was nearly 2secs clear of the R5 field on the first run, then Stuart Maloney came to the fore on run two in his Rock Hard Cement/Bushy Park Barbados Fabia, the car driven to R5 honours last year by Britain’s Tom Preston. Maloney was never headed, lowering his time to 1:45.09 on the final run, within 1sec of Swann, and good enough for fourth. Hill (1:45.70) was second in R5 and fifth, with Andrew Mallalieu (Terra Caribbean Ford Fiesta R5) and Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho (Subway/Motul Fiesta R5) third and fourth in class, seventh and eighth overall.

  Maloney said: “Today was about learning the car on the road, after testing at Bushy Park and VRW. Each run was a learning experience and I've found that I'm still braking too early, so there is a lot left. I'll try to be hot out of the box on Saturday; the car is capable, so once it feels good, I'll try as I learn.”
  While Barry Mayers was consistently the fastest 2wd in his SM2 Chefette/Rubis/Quality Tyre/Sign Depot Ford Fiesta, a narrowly missed out on finishing fifth overall and joining his brother Roger (2019, Toyota WR Starlet) and Ian Warren (2010, Suzuki Swift) with the best overall result for 2wd. Just 16/100s behind Hill at the finish, he said: “Our fight today was with the R5s andI  had a good last run other than a missed gear. I was hoping to edge out Roger Hill but, either way, I'm happy to win the group and fastest 2wd.”

  Just a couple of seconds adrift of Mayers, Andrew Jones (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) and Rhett Watson (Chefette/Stihl/Gliptone/Gunk/Leafy Organics/Hankook Tyres/Bajan Pure Water/Power King Batteries BMW M3) fought tooth and nail, Jones fractions ahead in all but the third run. They finished the day in that order separated by three-hundredths of a second, ninth and 10th overall, Jones remarking that he was “happy to be out driving the car at high speeds.”

  With BMW the best-represented marque in the entry list, two other classes provided great competition and enough sideways to keep the fans entertained: in Modified 3, Owen Cumberbatch (Bird Wrecker Services BMW M3) and David St Hill/Ian Grimes (Tropical Touch/St Hill & Sons Garage M3) both led, ‘Bird’ the eventual winner. In Clubman 2, Stuart Garcia (Kirba Inc/Smith’s Engineering Works/GuavaTech) led the six BimmaCup cars throughout, despite feeling unwell, although Sacha Soodeen edged ever closer to be within 1sec at the end of the day. New to the event, England’s Nick Morley (Globank/Spectrum X) started the day fifth in class, but rose to third at the close, ahead of Jason Downey. Making her debut in a road event after some BimmaCup events, Natya Soodeen settled in well to finish fifth, heading off American newcomer Scott Knott.

  With Clubman 3 attracting entries for the first time, British visitor Howard Patterson (Little Bristol Beach Bar/Paradise Surf School/Rallydrive Automotive Mazda RX-8), held sway for the first two runs, before Greg Cozier (Perkins & Son Barbados Rum/Tropical Shipping/Westlake Tyres/Barbados Port Inc BimmaCup Too) took charge to win by 1.7secs. Fellow Brit Chris Surman (Warmstyle Motorsport/Top Performance Services/Ignition Motor Sport/Syvecs Subaru Impreza) was the lone entry in Group N, finishing 29th overall, proudly carrying the Malayan flag in memory of his partner and co-driver Zowie Boiston’s mother, whose sudden death in March when a fit and healthy 61-year-old was a complete shock to the family.

  Simon Nutter only made it to the start-line after an all-out effort by local competitors and mechanics to get his Competition Supplies/Westgate Tyres & Exhaust/Scotty’s Cheap Car Hire/Coconut Court Beach Hotel/Udale’s Quality Meats Toyota Corolla re-fettled after blowing an engine on Thursday. He said: “Once again the rally fraternity proved what can be achieved. When Andrew Jones called for parts for the rebuild, engineer Peter Hinckson and his Cody crew set to. We can’t thank them enough.”

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.

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