The final countdown to Sol Rally Barbados 2009 will be busier than anticipated for some of the island's rally teams following the Automotive Art Shakedown Stages; a high rate of attrition left just 27 crews classified as overall finishers from the 47 that started the Barbados Rally Club's (BRC) 10-stage tarmac event.
After an impressively clean drive over the demanding Canefield, Pickerings and Turners Hall stages in the north of the island, Roger Hill and Graham Gittens claimed victory by 12.41 seconds in the Esso/Nassco/Motormac Toyota Corolla WRC; in doing so, Hill also took the lead in the Virgin Atlantic BRC Driver's Championship from Paul Bourne (Subaru Impreza WRC S9), who retired after crashing out on the opening stage of the day.
Hill was fastest on that first Canefield test, just over four seconds ahead of a determined Neil Armstrong (Simpson Motors/Hankook/Shell V-Power/Gunk Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI), with the flying Mazda 3 of Nicholas Gill third, another 1.5secs adrift. Just over half-a-second covered the next three cars, Barry Gale's Evo VI, Ian Warren's Suzuki Swift (fastest two-wheel-drive) and the Group N-leading Evo IX of Geoff Noel.
A flat tyre cost Roger Skeete (Michelin/Da Costa Mannings Auto Centre/Warrens Motors Subaru Impreza WRC S9) exactly 30 seconds to Hill, placing him 28th after stage one; for the massive spectator turn-out, however, this was good news, as it set the stage for a fight-back for the rest of the day, starting on stage two, where Skeete gained his first three seconds, leaping to 14th overall.
After suffering with on-board computer dramas early on, Trevor Manning (Ford Escort WRC) was fastest on the second run up Canefield; Hill was second fastest, snatching back the three seconds Skeete had gained on the previous stage, so a battle was clearly on the cards.
Skeete topped the time sheets on the final two stages before lunch, with Manning and Hill second fastest on stages four and five respectively; Armstrong had maintained his pace, to lie second overall, 15secs behind Hill, with Gale now third, another 6secs behind and two ahead of fourth-placed Skeete.
Warren and Brett Clarke (Evo VI) now completed the top six, ahead of Noel and Cliff Roett (Toyota Starlet), who had been in the top 10 a couple of times; behind him, less than 4secs covered the three leading cars in SuperModified 11, early front-runner Gill having slipped down to 10th overall, splitting the battling Jonathan Still (BMW M3) and newcomer to the Group Mark Hamilton (Ford Escort MkII).
Skeete continued his charge after the lunch halt, with a perfect hand of four fastest times (the penultimate stage was cancelled, following a minor timing malfunction), but it was simply not enough; on all but the final stage of the day, when Manning was just half-a-second shy of Skeete, Hill was second fastest, maintaining his advantage.
Armstrong was promoted to third by lose of play, Gale suffering from a hose detaching itself intermittently during the afternoon - he and Cherie Edghill won the trophies as highest-placed crew including a female; Warren finished fifth and highest-placed two-wheel-drive, with a delighted Roett sixth - he had enjoyed an excellent afternoon, beating Warren on two of the four stages.