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Ryan Champion, who became the first British winner of the East African Safari Classic Rally last November in a Porsche 911 with owner Richard Jackson, is today confirmed for Sol Rally Barbados 2018, following a successful shakedown at the Chris Birkbeck Rally School yesterday (Monday). Sol RB18 will run from Friday to Sunday, June 1-3, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill (KotH) the previous weekend, May 26/27.

Champion was among a number of Sol RB18 competitors heading south today, as Geest Line prepares to load approaching 30 cars on Sunday (May 6) at the south coast port of Dover, in the shadow of the famous ‘White Cliffs’, to ship across the Atlantic to the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International.

For his fourth trip to compete in the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event, Champion is reunited with the Ralliart-built Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX which he campaigned in the 2006 British Rally Championship, as his prize for winning the previous year’s Evo Challenge; that was his third one-make title, having earlier won the Peugeot Junior (1994) and Ford Puma (2002) titles. He also returns with co-driver Craig Thorley from that BRC campaign, in which they notably won Champion’s home event, Rally Yorkshire, beating three-time champion Mark Higgins in the process.

Both have history in Barbados, together and separately. Together, they finished eighth overall and won Group N in an Evo VIII in RB08, but retired the following year when they returned with Champion’s ex-Piero Liatti prodrive-built GpA Subaru Impreza 555. Champion finished 19th overall, fourth in Group N in 2001 in an Evo III, the same year that Thorley finished fifth overall, as co-driver for Chris Mellors, the first driver to campaign a World Rally Car in the island, his Ford Escort WRC. While on holiday as a spectator a few years later, Thorley was unexpectedly called up as co-driver for Trinidad’s John ‘Pentti’ Powell, finishing fourth in a Subaru Impreza WRC S12B.

Champion’s victory on last year’s biennial Safari Classic in Jackson’s ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’-supported Team Tuthill Porsche came at the couple’s third attempt, fastest on 10 of the 21 competitive sections, all driven by Champion; the win was shared with the Triumph TR7 V8 of Kenya’s Carl Tundo and Tim Jessop, due to a disputed competitive section, which proved unpassable on the prescribed route.

After some searching, Champion found his former Evo in Ireland last year, although it had been changed from its original spec; he and Thorley looked set to win last year’s Riponian Rally, until a rear cross member failure dropped them to third. Since then, a more comprehensive refresh has brought the car up to speed, Champion having enjoyed a successful shakedown at the Chris Birkbeck Rally School on Monday this week. For the Sol RB trip, the car is supported by Courtesy Rent-A-Car, Omologato, GPM and Speedline, while Champion continues to promote the ‘Rallying for Down Syndrome Awareness’ campaign.

All roads lead to Dover, as UK crews cover 12,000 miles

British crews entered for Sol RB18 will cover well over 12,000 miles between them this week, as they head for the south coast port of Dover from all corners of the UK to deliver their cars for loading on to the Geest Line freighter Baltic Klipper on Sunday (May 6) for their voyage across the Atlantic. Husband and wife Jon and Alison Trenholme were the first of the 27 crews to arrive yesterday (Monday) morning after a tough 300-mile southbound trip on Sunday, much of it in heavy rain, towing their Subaru Impreza from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, accompanied by their three Jack Russell terriers.

The Yorkshire crew’s 600-mile round trip is not the longest faced by competitors. While Stuart Austin, whose Impreza was the second car to arrive, travelled only 100 miles each way from Southwater in West Sussex, Robin Hamilton’s round trip from Edinburgh to deliver his MG Metro 6R4 was around 1,000 miles, with Ireland’s Peter Gallagher faced with an even longer journey.

Geest Line’s move from its traditional base at Portsmouth to Dover in January this year looked set to create some logistics problems for the Barbados Rally Club (BRC), but Rally Office Manager Jeanne Crawford is full of praise for the way in which the Club’s Shipping Partner has dealt with it: “The sudden announcement of the move came just as we were finalising our regular FAQ document, which lays out how things will work for our international competitors. Clearly, it would mean a big upheaval and change many visitors’ plans, but our regular contacts at Geest, in particular Sandy Wherrett, worked tirelessly to help us find workarounds for the new situation. Thanks to their co-operation and the patience of our competitors, it has all worked out OK!”

Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB18 marks the 11th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the third by communications provider Flow.

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