For the first time since the game of World Rally Car musical chairs stopped, the island's four leading car and driver combinations will come face to face on Sunday in the Barbados Rally Club's (BRC) Automotive Art Shakedown Stages.
The 10-stage tarmac rally starts the final four weeks of preparations for Sol Rally Barbados 2009, the Caribbean's biggest annual motor sport event.
With interest in motor sport running at unprecedented levels, the entry of 49 crews is a record for a National tarmac rally in recent years . . . and island fans are expected to turn out in their thousands to witness the first showdown of the year between Paul Bourne, Roger Hill, Trevor Manning and Roger Skeete.
The only one of the four not to have changed cars since Sol RB08 is Bourne, who starts Sunday's event at number one, co-driven in the Banks/LIME/Virgin Atlantic Airways Subaru Impreza WRC S9 by Stuart Maloney, with whom he won Rally Barbados in 2007. Sunday's event is round three of the Virgin Atlantic BRC Driver's Championship, of which Bourne won the first two rounds, on gravel.
Driving the Esso/Nassco/Motormac Toyota Corolla WRC in which Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke won Sol RB08, Hill has been Bourne's closest challenger so far, finishing second, then third, in the first two rounds; unfortunately for Hill, who will have regular co-driver Graham Gittens alongside on Sunday, the BRC Championship's opening round was shared with the first half of the Motoring Club of Barbados Inc's (MCBI) double-header in March, not the second . . . where Hill beat Bourne!
Manning did not appear until the BRC Championship's second round two weeks later, where he split Bourne and Hill in his All-Terrain Plus/Garbage Master/Bess Block Ford Escort WRC, despite having owned the car formerly campaigned by Skeete for precious few days. With further work to be done on his new mount, Manning missed the MCBI Tarmac Sprint at Luke Hill 10 days ago, where his car's former owner was the man on form. On Sunday, Derek Edwards starts his second season as co-driver to Manning.
Skeete acquired his Michelin/FB Batteries Subaru Impreza WRC S9 from John Powell shortly after Sol RB09 and, after winning the local season's final gravel rally, then placing second in Rally Jamaica, set about a ground-up rebuild of the car. His victory in the recent MCBI event would indicate the work has been worthwhile, so he is expected to mount a strong challenge, with new co-driver Louis Venezia - winner of Rally Barbados 2003 with Bourne - alongside.
Scrutineering is scheduled for 1.00pm Saturday at Automotive Art, Six Roads, St Philip, with the Sunday start at 9.00am from the company's premises at Welches, St Michael; the event will be contested over 10 stages in the north of the island, with Black Bess the base for service, also the venue for the lunch halt, the finish and a post-event social for competitors, marshals, officials and spectators.