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British crew Tom Preston and Carl Williamson, who won Group A and finished ninth overall in Sol Rally Barbados 2018, are the first confirmed entry for the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) new FIA R5 category as the Club prepares for this year’s 30th running of its premier event. He will drive the Hippo Motor Group Skoda Fabia R5 in which he lies seventh in the British Rally Championship after last Saturday’s (February 16) opening round, the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally in North Wales.

Sol RB19 will run from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 2, with The Rally Show on the previous Saturday (May 25) followed by Flow King of the Hill at its new Stewarts Hill location on the Sunday; in three decades, the event has evolved from small beginnings as the All-Stage Rally of 1990 into the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International and a key National Event on the island’s sports-tourism calendar.

Preston has enjoyed an encouraging start to his 2019 season in the UK, where his regular co-driver is Andrew Roughead, another Barbados connection, having finished third in Sol RB17 and fourth last year with Kevin Procter. The weekend before the British Championship opener, they had already finished fourth in the Riponian Stages (February 10) in Yorkshire, both events won by the 2018 British Rally Champion Matt Edwards, whose co-driver last year was Darren Garrod, who has twice finished second in Sol Rally Barbados with Rob Swann.

Preston is upbeat about his first two outings this year in the Fabia, which continues to be run by Martin Wilkinson’s team at Carlisle-based CA1 Sport. After last weekend’s Cambrian, which attracted a quality entry, Preston said: “I was fairly happy with our result, given the entry; we did our own notes, which is something I have only done a few times before, and the first pass was ‘interesting’. I think I must have taken some brave pills on the recce, as the corners were much tighter at speed, which then didn’t give me the confidence to attack them afterwards, but this improved on the second run.

“We were battling with Alex Laffey all day. Going into the last three night stages we were two seconds down, but managed to have a good push and ended up 18 seconds up by the last stage, setting a seventh fastest overall time.”

Preston’s trip to Sol RB19 will be his third, having first competed in a Group N Subaru Impreza in 2003, the year that the event was renamed Rally Barbados; as last year, his co-driver will be Carl Williamson, the 2016 British Trial & Rally Drivers Association (BTRDA) Co-drivers Champion, when he partnered Charlie Payne; in a 20-year career, the Welshman has sat with Jari-Matti Latvala in his early British Rally Championship days, as well as Mark Higgins and Steve Perez, while he already had previous Barbados experience, as co-driver for Andrew Siddall in an historic Ford Escort MkI in 2013.

Preston’s first outright rally win came on the Wales Rally GB National event in 2017, when he led Scotland’s Bruce McCombie (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) and another Barbados regular Roger Duckworth (Subaru Impreza WRC S6) home to the finish in Llandudno. He has campaigned a wide range of cars before the Fabia, including a BMW M3, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI and Evo IX, an ex-works Ford Focus WRC01. He finished third in the WRGB National 2 Day Rally in 2013 in the Evo VI, then had BTRDA class wins in the Rainworth Skoda Dukeries Rally and Trackrod Stages in 2014 in the Evo IX, before acquiring the Focus, in which Carlos Sainz finished second in the 2001 Monte Carlo Rally.

A class podium on the 2015 Trackrod was his best result in the Focus – the co-driver on that occasion was also Roughead – which was replaced with his first Fabia in 2016. Mixing BTRDA events with rounds of the British Rally Championship, Preston picked up a number of top 10 finishes, then was leading the 2016 WRGB National Rally after the first two stages until rolling the Fabia; although out of the running for leading honours, Preston rewarded the CA1 Sport outfit, who had worked until the early hours to get the car ready to compete again on Saturday, with stage wins at Cholmondeley and Brenig. Last year’s WRGB National didn’t last long, however, with an early retirement on a very challenging weekend.

Walsh heads successful Barbados connections in busy UK weekend

Co-driver Patrick Walsh was the most successful of many Sol Rally Barbados connections in action in the UK last weekend, when he sat alongside the winners of both the opening round of the British Rally Championship on Saturday (February 16) and the Jack Frost Stages on Sunday. Walsh, who has competed in the island for the last two years with Graham Coffey, has replaced Darren Garrod as co-driver to last year’s British Champion Matt Edwards in his Ford Fiesta R5, who started his title defence in the best possible way with victory on the Cambrian; he then headed to the Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire for his second victory, in the Jack Frost Stages in Peter Smith’s Fiesta WRC.

In the East of England, Steve Finch had temporarily swapped the Ford Escort MkII that he finished second in SuperModified 10 in Sol RB15 for a Fiesta R5, in which he finished fourth overall and class winner in Saturday’s Snetterton Stages; also in action were Pete and Maria Rayner – seventh overall in a MkII Escort – John Carroll, who made his Barbados debut last year, in his Honda Civic, while Rob Swann swapped seats to co-drive for Neil Beaumont, finishing 27th overall and sixth in class in a Subaru Impreza.

Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB19 marks the 12th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the fourth by communications provider Flow.

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