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Panton out front, Sheriff crashes

MIKE KING, [email protected]

Panton out front, Sheriff crashes

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On a dramatic day of turns and twists, 13-time champion Roger Skeete crashed out of Sol Rally Barbados 2018 and most bets are on top seeds Jeff Panton and Mike Fennell to record a four-peat.

Skeete, the most decorated driver in the history of the event, crashed out at the lightning pace downhill stretch at Sailor Gully, approaching Orange Hill. Both he and navigator Lewis Venezia who were travelling at more than 80 miles per hour were unhurt but their Subaru Impreza WRC which overturned, sustained damage to its roof, windshield and right doors.

The 63-year-old Skeete, who was in third position when he crashed,  told Sunsport he will be back next year.

“Naturally, I am disappointed. I was still very much in the battle. It is tough but life goes on.  I will be back,” he said last night.

Skeete and Venezia walked away with barely a scratch but Daryl Clarke and navigator Russell Brancker were not so lucky in their Honda Civic in Sailor Gully onStage 5. Both sustained what is believed to have been serious injuries.

Panton and Fennell were locked in an enthralling duel in their Rubis/Sandals Barbados/KIG Ford Focus WRC06 with Brits Paul Bird and Rob Swann.

 Bird, a former UK national rally champion, back after a two-year absence, with new co-driver Jack Morton in a Frank Bird Poultry/Be Wiser Insurance/Focus WRC08, was picking at Panton’s lead all day but suffered a puncture on part ofStage 9 at Hangman’s Hill.

That cost him plenty of time – he was 56th on the stage – and the determined Swann, who is partnered by Darren Garrod in an Elegant Hotels/Blue Sky Luxury Subaru Impreza WRC S12B, moved into second. Swann is 37 seconds behind Panton, with Bird in third spot.

Swann and Garrod, who were seeded second last year, are bidding to win the event for the first time.

Panton, who led all day, took the tenth stage from French Village to Four Hills ahead of Swann and Bird. That stage was the last day stage before the drivers went into the night stages.

Rally Barbados is about much more than the overall title. The two-wheel drive contest was topsy-turvy, with Dane Skeete and the Mayers brothers, Roger and Barry, swapping the lead.

Barry Mayers, driving a Cheffette/Rubis/Digicel Ford Fiesta, held the lead after the first two stages before Dane, a son of Roger, took over yesterday morning. Both Barry and Roger were hot on his heels throughout the afternoon. Roger, the 2005 champion, suffered a puncture to his Toyota Starlet, late yesterday, which cost him much time and dropped him out of the top 20, so he has plenty of work to do in today’s ten stages.

 All of the action today is on the east of the island, with three stages each at Padmore, Kendal and Malvern and the final stage at Bushy Park, St Philip. (MK)