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Britain’s Rob Swann is in upbeat mood about Sol Rally Barbados 2020 after winning last Sunday’s (December 29) Mini Tempest Rushmoor Stages in the South of England on his second outing to assess a Ford Fiesta WRC. Runner-up in the Caribbean’s biggest motor sport International three times, he lost out in 2017 and ‘18 to Jamaica’s Jeffrey Panton, who is reviewing his own options ahead of Sol RB20 with an entry on a single-venue event in the UK next month in a Fiesta R5.

Neither finished Sol RB19: the engine of Swann’s Subaru Impreza WRC S12B failed on Friday evening, then Panton retired after a dramatic Sunday morning accident which destroyed his Ford Focus WRC06. While both visitors have driven their way in to the hearts of island fans, the resultant victory for local rising star Dane Skeete (Impreza S12B) was warmly celebrated following Panton’s run of four wins since Sol RB15.

The 31st running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event is scheduled for Friday to Sunday, May 29 to 31, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill the previous weekend. Confirmation of a rule change allowing more modern World Rally Cars (up to 2016) to enter future events, along with the growth of the FIA R5 class in the island has resulted in a major rethink among the event’s front-runners. While Panton and Swann are still weighing their options, Britain’s Tom Preston, who finished fourth last year in his Skoda Fabia R5, is already confirmed for Sol RB20 in a Fiesta WRC.

In unseasonal sunny weather, Swann and co-driver Steve McNulty won all eight stages of last weekend’s event, run within a secure military complex near Aldershot in Hampshire. Afterwards he said: “It reminded me why I started rallying in the first place. We had a great day, it was good fun, with loads of good friends around and we had a lot of fun in the car.” McNulty backed up Swann’s thoughts, saying: “We had a really good time. It was great to see Rob smiling and happy yesterday.”

Having worked hard on recovery and rehabilitation since his accident last June, Panton is looking forward to returning to competition: “Very fortunately, I have recovered quite quickly. I have a personal trainer that I work with three times a week building back strength in the upper body. Recovery really has come along quite well!”

After brief test, Panton and co-driver Mike Fennell will contest the Alan Healy Memorial Cadwell Park Stages on February 2, which is round five of the Motorsport News MSVR Circuit Rally Championship; the Fiesta R5, acquired in the deal to dispose of the remains of his Focus, will be supported in the UK by Dom Buckley Motorsport IRS, which will also be running Paul Bird’s son Frank that weekend in the Focus WRC07 in which his father twice won Sol Rally Barbados.

Panton has fond memories of his own Focus: “I am very sad about the Focus, it was such a good car and treated me well with nothing but podiums and a tremendous number of first places. I truly loved the car and how it drove and am very sad that I don’t have it anymore, but we have to look to the future and newer technology to keep our edge! The Fiesta will be shipped to Barbados immediately after Cadwell Park to catch the first event on the BRC Calendar, as we intend on getting some much-needed seat time leading up to Rally Barbados and will take every opportunity to do so.”

Rally Club finalising plans for 2020 Championship

As a new decade starts, the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) Committee of Management has been working on plans for the 2020 season, with a number of changes in store for competitors in its Driver’s and Class Championships. The dates for the seven-round series are now confirmed, but details of a proposed new policy for servicing on rallies and a revision of the points-scoring system are still being finalised.

The Championship proper will kick off with the BRC Shakedown Stages on Sunday, April 19, although the Club is considering running a ‘Practice Stage’ during March, given sufficient take-up from members looking to test their cars in quasi-competition conditions; it would not be timed or count for Championship points.

As usual, Flow King of the Hill (May 24) and Sol Rally Barbados (May 29-31) will play a key role in the Championship, offering three points-scoring opportunities over the Clubs’ two biggest weekends of the year; it has also been confirmed that KotH will return to Stewarts Hill in St Philip. Rounds 5 and 6 will play out at the Double-header Winter Sprint, running a month later than in 2019, on Sunday, October 25, with the final round at the Winter Rally over the weekend of November 21/22.

Club PRO Neil Barnard said: “On the servicing front, in broad terms, it will be restricted to designated service areas for the team or service crew, but of course the driver or co-driver will be allowed to work on their own car without outside assistance as before and as per the event SRs. In an effort to make the Championship easier for competitors and the general public to understand, we will be making a few changes for 2020, primarily with the parameters on how points are scored. We will be circulating the revised Championship Regulations in the next couple of weeks.”

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, and the fifth by communications provider Flow.

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