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Simply the best!

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer

Friday, June 09, 2017

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THE Jamaican team of Jeffrey Panton and Michael Fennell Jr drove their way into the record books when they became the first international team to gain a hat-trick at SOL Rally Barbados last weekend, having won the event for the third-straight time.SOL Rally Barbados 2017 ran from June 2 - 4, covering 140km of competitive stage mileage. The event saw 88 competitors take the start ramp.

“This achievement is very important to myself and Mike, as it is without doubt the most prestigious motorsport event held in the Caribbean. The recognition is far-reaching as 40 per cent of the competitors are from across Europe. Additionally, the amount of foreign press coverage received is phenomenal. So, as a driver succeeding at this level, is what we aspire to do. Representing Jamaica at the same time and proving that someone from a small Caribbean island can match pace and beat the likes of the European entries speaks volumes to the talent that Jamaica can produce,” Panton told Jamaica Observer's weekly Auto magazine.

Co-driver Fennell mirrored the sentiment, as the feat is one of their most significant since their decade together as a rally team.

“This victory has stamped our authority on the rally circuit in Barbados. Not only have we won Rally Barbados three years in a row, which is a feat in itself, but we've also won every other rally entered their since the end of 2014,” said Fennell Jr.

That international attention has secured the pair an invite to the Martinique Rally Tour on July 21 in Martinique.

“Well, we are scheduled to compete in the Martinique Rally at the end of July against our rival Simon Jean-Joseph the ex-French Rally Champion whom competed in Rally Jamaica 2015 and Rally Barbados 2015 and 2016. This, of course, is now dependent on the car being repaired in time since our incident on Rally Barbados. We also have committed to the Barbados Championship, which we are now leading and will be doing more events there throughout the year,” said Panton.

For the rally, Panton explained things were a bit easier this year as they immediately had a much higher pace than their class rivals, English drivers Rob Swann, Kevin Proctor, Roger Duckworth and the other multiple Rally Barbados winner, local hero, Roger Skeete. The Jamaicans took advantage of a format change that had the event start the Friday night with two proper stages instead of side-by-side super special for spectators.

“This year, the format was changed to start with two proper stages which actually were the longest of the rally. We knew that if we attacked those stages we would be able to put significant time on our closest rivals. This would allow for us to have a cushion to start with on the second day and gradually build from there,” he said.

By the end of the night, they had a 22-second lead, which they extended to one minute 20 on Saturday. Their Ford Focus World Rally Car ran flawlessly at the front of the field until special stage 19 when a driver error almost ended their rally.

“With only three stages remaining on Sunday, we entered a series of corners way too fast and so the momentum carried the car into some mud which we came out of okay, but in negotiating the very next corner the tyres still having not scrubbed off the mud sent the car into a slide that slammed us in a stone wall. This damaged the rear of the car and actually tore off the rear trunk lid and rear spoiler. We lost about 15 seconds getting the car restarted and pointing in the right direction again. Fortunately for us, our crew was able to make temporary repairs that allowed us to complete without losing and additional time or penalties,” he explained.

From there, they drove to the end ahead of Rob Swann and Roger Duckworth.

“A big thank you to all our sponsors whom as you know without would make this impossible, KIG, Sandals, and Rubis Caribbean.”

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