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The female touch at Rally Barbados

Twelve months after they 'tied the knot' on a Caribbean beach, rally-mad English couple Cheryl and Barry Spencer will return to celebrate their first wedding anniversary in May, just days before they compete in the region's biggest annual motor sport event, Sol Rally Barbados, for the second time.

Cheryl - Bell, as she was then - and Barry, from Portchester in Hampshire on England's south coast, got married at The Boatyard, a beach bar in the island's capital Bridgetown; as her parents were unable to make the trip, the future Mrs Spencer was given away by runner-up in the 2006 British Rally Championship, Ryan Champion, who went on to win Group N in last year's event.

The Spencers had chanced on Rally Barbados 2007 while on holiday and, despite having no previous competition experience, they bought a Vauxhall Astra GSi rally car and set about learning the ropes at the Bill Gwynne Rally School . . . with Cheryl in the driving seat; after entering a couple of events in Britain to gain experience, they arrived in Barbados in 2008 and, while fortune did not shine on them - the wiring loom burned out on the second day - they were determined to return.

As Cheryl says: "We had such a great time, not only with the fact we got married, but with all the fantastic help and support everybody gave us - Simon Gillmore for the servicing, Dave Crawford for all his advice on the stages, Sean Gill at The Boatyard and Richard Daniel for organising the wedding . . . and the unusual present of two bottles of Octane Booster from Barry Gale!"

The couple had hoped to expand their rallying programme this year to take in one or two more events, but finding sponsorship has been difficult in the current climate, as Cheryl says: "Sponsorship hasn't been easy this year, but that's not stopped our determination; we're continuing with the Eden Vauxhall Rally Team name, and have some great support from A & J Lawrence Accident & Mechanical Repairs, who are preparing the car, Creative Space Solutions, Old Castle B & B and ABS Embroidery."

And those sponsors are reaping the benefits of their support early, as is Sol Rally Barbados. Cheryl and Barry have already been the focus of a 750-word feature in Portsmouth Today, which covers a large area of the south coast, including Portsmouth, from where the European entries will be shipped by the Geest Line at the end of April.

And, while Cheryl is currently the only woman driver entered for the event, she will not be alone in bringing the female touch to Sol Rally Barbados 2009. No fewer than 11 female co-drivers are entered so far, including two in the Modified 7 class in which the Spencers will run . . . as last year, they will again face local couple Ron and Giselle Layne (Nissan Sunny), while Jennifer Hole will co-drive for Gary Mendes (Toyota Starlet).

One of the local girls does have experience behind the wheel, but in circuit racing, rather than rallying. Co-driver for Jeremy Gonsalves (Suzuki Swift), Natasha Farnum became the first - and, so far, only - Bajan woman to win a race at the Bushy Park racetrack, back in 2002, when she was still at school.

Of her love for the sport, she says: "There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of a rally car purring up a straight, then watching as it slides through a corner. From a driver's point of view, winning gives you bragging rights until the next event . . . in racing, its all about the thrill. Nothing can come close to the sound of that engine revving on the start line and you pushing yourself to the limit."

In addition to Spencer, the European contingent includes Holland's Fenny Wesselink, class-winning co-driver in the past with Scotland's Kenny Hall (Opel Corsa), and fellow countrywoman Hester van Ovost, who visits for the first time, co-driving for Holland's Frans Verbaas, in his newly-created Mini.


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