Fair warning. I am in NO way, shape or form a photographer. I went to Rally Barbados armed with nothing more than a smartphone, so don’t expect Speedhunters quality photos, although I reckon that adds to the authenticity of me being your run-of-the-mill rally patron. Now that that’s out of the way, join me on the comedy of errors that was my journey to SOL Rally Barbados 2017, Day 3.
My journey starts at 7:34 a.m. By this point though, I’ve already been up for 2 hours – my dog walked and fed, car packed and tyre pressures adjusted in preparation for life’s inconveniences (To our non-Bajan readers, that was an inside joke. I mean potholes). As per tradition, the St. Thomas portion of my rally crew meets up at a friend’s house and then travels to Duck Pond for the Drax Hall stages. Once everyone arrives we set off. A couple guys decide to travel on the back of a pickup truck but I elect to drive my car, mainly because I like taking it on road trips. That and I like to be free to leave when I want if I’m dead tired by day’s end.
I’m the first to arrive and instantly regret not getting onto the truck. The night’s rains have turned the parking area at Duck Pond into a muddy trail. Luckily, my tyres are new so I traverse the mud with little fuss, better than some SUVs in fact. The rest arrive and we go to our regular spot as close to the road-side as possible, just after the corner before the pond. At this point it’s just after 8:30 so we have another 2 hours before the rally cars arrive. I use this time to get some breakfast and play around with my phone camera’s manual settings, as outside is rather dull and cloudy. 2 hours of small talk and corny jokes later and the stage is live. The sound of screeching tyres and a 4 cylinder engine being wrung within an inch of its life gets increasingly louder. The rally cars are here! Only it wasn’t a rally car, not a competitor anyway. Exiting the first corner sideways is Ryan Wood, signaling the start of the stage in the Zero Car. Honestly I’d like to see his times. Were he competing I’m sure he would finish in a respectable position.
Soon after, the WRC cars appear and I get to shooting, or so I thought. During a small break after the front-runners have passed, I check my pictures, only to realize that the camera’s burst function doesn’t work in manual mode. All I have is picture after picture of the rear of a rally car in the distance. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two comes almost immediately after, in the form of Mark Kinch in his BMW 328i. Sideways. So sideways he’s practically staring me straight in the face. Then he does the same thing at the next corner… and all the while my camera is pointing at the ground. Nothing else the day brought would top those few seconds and it’s a shame all of the major videographers opted to go to the Padmore Village stage; it was that epic. At this point I admit defeat for the rest of the stage and just take in the remainder of the action.
Copious amounts of snacks, drinks and small talk later, we arrive at the scheduled time for the next stage, but no safety cars have passed. Even well after, there’s no sign of a rally approaching. Word is a spectator had the brilliant idea to roast breadfruits in a cane field, inevitably starting a fire and delaying the second run through Padmore Village. We wait for what seems like an eternity and finally the Zero cars appear one after the other. This time I opt for the automatic setting with flash and get to shooting; starting with front-runner Jeffrey Panton in his Ford Focus WRC06.
Jeffrey Panton/ Michael Fennell
Following rally cars as they blow by proves to be much harder than I thought; most of the close up shots are either blurry or only capture half of the car.
From Left: Robb Swann/ Darren Garrod, Kevin Procter/ Andy Roughead, Roger Duckworth/ Alun Cook
By the time Roger ‘The Sheriff’ Skeete arrives in his S12 Subaru Impreza WRC however, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
Roger Skeete/ Louis Venezia
Immediately after Skeete, the anti-lag rich orchestra of the WRC cars is broken by the wail of a high strung 4-cylinder engine. A SM2 car has arrived. Made up of the angriest naturally aspirated 1600 – 2500cc rally cars, Super Modified 2 is in my opinion the most exciting group at Rally Barbados. The front-runners of this group often mix it with the WRC cars on the leaderboard (they’re that fast), earning them the local nickname ‘WRC Hunters’. Unfortunately, only Barry Mayers in his YB Cosworth powered Fiesta is taking the fight to the WRC cars, with most of the SM2 field falling to mechanical issues and crashes.
Barry Mayers/ Ben Norris
The next non-WRC car to arrive is the SM3 leading BMW M3 of Justin Campbell, who was yet to put a foot wrong after 2 days of day and night rallying. BMWs are actually everywhere throughout the field, 10 of the 11 cars in SM3 alone are BMWs.
Justin Campbell/ Juan Watts
Andrew Jones in his Mk 2 Escort keeps very clean and fast lines through the duck pond bends, clearly trying to finish in a strong position as the only non-BMW in SM3.
Andrew Jones/ Lindsey Pilkinton
Greg Cozier on the other hand is rather liberal with the flair. To be fair he’s still impressively quick, leading the Historic-2 group.
Greg Cozier/ Natasha Farnum
Another driver who’s balancing flair with speed is Neil Corbin in his SM1 leading Toyota Starlet. I’m not sure of the exact specs of his engine other than it’s a 4A-GE 20V, but this thing absolutely hauls and sounds epic while doing it. It was easily my favourite Starlet in the absence of the SM2 Starlets of Josh Read and Roger Mayers.
Neil Corbin/ Matthew Staffner
The Mini Cooper of Frans Verbaas is another favourite of mine. Again, I don’t have a clue what powers it (I’m told a Honda engine) but it looks like an absolute blast to drive.
Frans Verbaas/ Kees Hagman
The Mini Cooper of Kevin Flannagan looks completely stock in comparison but my word does that little thing move! I’m sure everyone was as surprised by its pace as well as its position in the field as I was.
Kevin Flanagan/ Dominic Williams
The Sunday Cup field, made up of competitors that were out of the running for an overall position due to retirements in the previous days, arrives towards the end of the stage. My favourite from the group is undoubtedly the freshly built E30 3 Series driven by Jonathan Still. It’s quite the looker in red, the best colour for an E30 in my opinion. The soundtrack of the S50 adds to the drama as it blows by as well.
Jonathan Still/ Heath Hazell
Usually by the time the last-placed car comes around, spectators are already in their seats. This time though, the spectators are waiting with anticipation and then going crazy when it passes. The car in question is the BMW 316i driven by Shon “The Flickster” Cummins. I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for a last-placed driver, but as a man who just last year was on the sidelines with the rest of us spectators, it’s easy to understand why. I’m sure by competing he has inspired many a fan to eventually take the plunge into competing. His sense of humour has also won him many fans (notice the Learner plate on the back). Unfortunately, due to a handbrake issue, there would be no Beef & Potato action (Another inside joke. That is The Flickster’s self-titled version of the Scandinavian Flick) for fans to enjoy.
Shon Cummins/ Jason Tull
It’s well into the afternoon after the stage is closed so my group decides to head straight to Bushy Park instead of the initial plan to visit the Malvern stage. Once we arrive and enter, we set up in the general seating area, just in front of the media building to get a full view of the track.
Soon it’s time for the final stage. I miss the top 3 while buying food but there’s no way I’m missing Mark Kinch’s run twice, so I’m back as quickly as possible. He doesn’t disappoint, putting on the best show out of all the drivers. I don’t know what position he finished in; don’t care either to be honest. He was easily the most entertaining driver of the event as you can see below. Excuse the quality of the zoomed-in video, although we’ve probably established by now that my smartphone wasn’t quite suitable for the task.
Allan Mackay is another driver that the fans look forward to for a showboat performance. You just know you’re in for a treat when the Scottish flags are tied to the car.
Each driver makes their way to an open lawn just above where I’m sat after completing the stage, so I make my way there to get some close up shots before the crowds inevitably arrive. The S12 Impreza WRC of Graham Coffey is the first car I go to. This gets my pick for best looking car at the event, the bright red paint job offset nicely by the classic gold wheels. I’m also a fan of the black roof, side mirrors and spoiler. He did really well for a first-timer to Barbados too, finishing 8th overall.
Graham Coffey/ Patrick Walsh
There’s an inspiring story behind the battle scarred look of Fraser and Abi Louden’s Mitsubishi Evo IX. After a bad crash and roll in the King of the Hill event the week prior, many thought their Rally Barbados adventure was over. However, both local and international teams rallied together (pun intended) and went about rebuilding the car for the main event, which they complete, finishing 31st overall. Such is the level of camaraderie among drivers at Rally Barbados and the fighting spirit of the Loudens.
Fraser Louden/ Abi Louden
Neil Corbin and Justin Campbell maintain their fine form to the end, taking victories in SM1 and SM3 respectively.
The same can be said for Barry Mayers, who comfortably wins SM2.
Roger Duckworth finishes with a well-deserved WRC-2 victory and an even more impressive 3rd overall. A huge feat considering he out-paced more modern WRC cars in his Impreza WRC S6. As the eagle eyed among you have noticed, this isn’t a picture of mine. My final mistake of the day is to forget to take a picture of his car. Luckily I was able to source this also-smartphone picture from a friend (thanks Dwelz).
Of course the biggest congratulations goes to Jeffrey Panton, who completes a Rally Barbados hat-trick with another victory. This makes him the first overseas competitor – and the only competitor other than The Sheriff – to win three back-to-back titles.
All in all, despite the many flaws in execution, I’d say my plan to capture Rally Barbados turned out pretty decent, for a complete noob. Hopefully I can return next year with better preparation. For now, it’s time to find a proper camera.