The strongest entry in the 20-year history of the Barbados Rally Club's blue riband event will assemble in three weeks' time for the Caribbean's biggest annual international celebration of motorsport, Sol Rally Barbados 2009...and success this weekend has provided a timely confidence boost for last year's top two crews.
Sol RB08 winners, Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, now lead the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), fast replacing the World Rally Championship as the sport's most marketable high-end product; adding victory in the Peugeot UK/Kronos Racing S2000 Peugeot 207 in the rain-shortened Rally of the Azores on Saturday to their earlier win in Brazil, they become the first crew to win two IRC rounds this year.
Meanwhile, England's Paul Bird and Ian Windress (Ford Focus WRC07) increased their chances of adding a second UK National Championship to the title they won in 2005 by winning the Manx Telecom Rally, another rain-affected event run on an island, hopefully not a bad omen; for Superbike team owner Bird, whose successes there include road racing legend Joey Dunlop's final Isle of Man TT victory on one of Bird's machines, it was an emotional win after eight years of trying.
Both are entered for Sol RB09 in Subaru Impreza WRC S9s; Meeke is sponsored by Red Bull and local companies Digicel and ARMAG, while 'Birdy' carries over his UK backers, SuperCasino.com, Vent Axia and VK Vodka Kick.
The provisional entry list published today includes four more previous winners; 10-time winner Roger Skeete will lead the local defence in his recently-acquired S12, backed up by 2003 and '07 winner Paul Bourne (S9) and Trevor Manning (Ford Escort WRC), who won in 1999.
Jamaica's Jeffrey Panton - winner in 1998 - makes his first appearance in Barbados in the ex-Colin McRae Ford Focus WRC02 in which he won Rally Jamaica 2008, while the Toyota Corolla WRC in which Meeke won Sol RB08 is now campaigned by local ace Roger Hill, who won last week's Automotive Art Shakedown Stages. Adding to that list the 2004 UK National Champion, Steve Perez, who finished fifth on the Isle of Man on Saturday in his Kick Energy Focus WRC07, and fellow-Brit Kevin Procter (S7), means only those very confident of their predictions should be placing bets.
Despite the pressures of the worldwide economic downturn, the Club's maximum of 90 entries has been exceeded, testament to the special appeal of the event, according to Rally Chairman Barry Gale.
"I don't mind admitting I've been totally bowled over by the support we have from our overseas competitors," he said. "When we opened entries back in January, I was very nervous about how things would turn out.
"But what we have been finding is that many European competitors, faced with tighter budgets, have decided to 'cherry pick' a smaller number of events, perhaps a special trip they have always wanted to make; while return visitors like Steve Perez, Kevin Procter and Martin Stockdale, have kept us on their list, we have some interesting newcomers."
Among these are Glenn Campbell and Simon Michael from Ireland, who drive Nissan Micra and Ford Escort MkII respectively and their entries help spread the overseas interest right through the field - only one or two of the BRC's regular classifications will be without a battle between local drivers and visitors from either the region or Europe.