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Confirmation today (October 6) of the participation in Sol Rally Barbados 2020 of Scotland’s Fraser Louden and George Sherman of the United States has boosted the four-wheel-drive entry for this month’s 31st running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event. Along with other overseas visitors, they have earned praise from the organisers for the efforts they are making to travel to the island against the background of the restrictions required by Covid-19 protocols.

Following its postponement as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event will now run over the weekend of October 31/November 1, with the Prizegiving on Sunday evening at the Vaucluse Raceway, where the 19th and final stage will end. The previous Saturday, Bushy Park will host Scrutineering, while Flow King of the Hill on the Sunday will return to Stewarts Hill, running on a similar course to last year and once again the basis for seeding the main event.

Louden, whose business is based in Houston, Texas, will run in the WRC class in his EV Offshore-backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Proto with co-driver Ashleigh Sigdwick, who is making the trip from Scotland, while New Jersey-based Sherman and son Anthony are entered in Modified 4 in his Tide Cleaners/Subway Lancer Evo IX.

The challenges they all face in making safe and secure travel arrangements have been commended by the event’s organisers. In his preface to the Supplementary Regulations, which were published yesterday (Monday), Sol RB Chairman Mark Hamilton wrote: “I would like to make special mention of those overseas teams who have made an extraordinary effort to travel to our island and compete. We are well aware what a challenging decision this will have been for you all and Barbadians, not just in motor sport but also those working to rebuild our vital tourism industry, thank you.”

Louden enters Sol Rally Barbados for the fourth time, having admitted before Sol RB15 that his rally cars had spent quite a lot of time lodged in trees since his debut in the 1990s. On his first visit to the island, he was dubbed the ‘King of the wild rides’ in the local media after an excursion into the trees in his previous Evo IX on King of the Hill. He then rolled in spectacular fashion two years later on KotH, his appearance in Sol RB17 thanks in no small part to a huge number of helpers who repaired the battered car at ‘Rally Central’ in the Pits at Bushy Park.

The former Scottish Rally Championship class-winner (2006, Ford Puma 1600) has finished the Rally Club’s premier event each time, with a best result of 23rd overall last year, on his debut in the Lancer previously rallied in the island by fellow-Scot Brian Watson. Louden was joined by 2018 Scottish Champion co-driver Jane Nicol, sitting in for his daughter Abi, who was busy making him a grand-dad. He then expanded his island rallying when he finished 10th overall and second in WRC in last year’s HO2 Construction Winter Rally with Ashleigh Sidgwick on the notes, since when the car has remained in the island and would have been used more often, but for the pandemic.

Of his planning for this year’s trip from Texas, Louden says: “It’s a bit of a nightmare to organize the test, get the results, upload them 24 hours before we travel and then travel to arrive there within 72 hours of the test, as the results can take up to 48 hours!” As Louden explains, the car is less of a problem: “The ‘plastic-fantastic’ Evo Proto has been in its container by my local ‘brother’ John Beckles, so it’s sitting there all ready to rock’n’roll. John and Ricky Bruce will be the support team this year, as my UK mechanic squad are not able to get the extra time off from work for the quarantine.”

While co-driver Sidgwick, who will be travelling with husband Peter, admits it will be “a little logistically challenging” to make the trip, she can see an upside: “We fly home just before my birthday and since all party plans have had to be binned due to Covid restrictions in the UK, I will be hoping to twist Pete’s arm so we can celebrate out in Barbados in style.”

Even before he competed in Sol Rally Barbados for the first time in 2017, with son Anthony in the co-driver’s seat, former drag and circuit racer Sherman had already visited the island three times, crewing for his good friend Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho, his debut coming in the Evo in which Coelho had won the Rally Club’s GpN title two years earlier. Sherman extended the car’s winning form by claiming the Club’s Novice Award and GpN titles in 2018, when he also won GpN in Sol RB18 after British visitor Shelly Taunt retired. Ahead of the 2019 season, the ex-Geoff Noel Evo was upgraded to Modified 4 spec, as Sherman grew increasingly comfortable in the car.

While Sherman is determined to compete, he says: “I am practical in knowing that there are many things working against it. Flights are hard to come by, the rapid tests needed to get on the plane are very, very hard to get. Different states are handling testing availability differently and New Jersey doesn’t allow for the general public to get a rapid PCR test, as they are reserved for first responders, which we can all understand.”

Apart from the logistical complications, there are emotional factors to consider also, as Sherman explains: “I will be gone nearly a month and will need to work remotely from Barbados, which generally isn’t a problem as the island is a true paradise, but I will be away from my family during these difficult times. We have lost people we are close to due to the virus and will likely lose more, so being away makes it even more difficult.”

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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