In common with every other sporting discipline at home and overseas, motor sport in Barbados has been through challenging times since the first cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the island in March 2020. Although the 50 or so events listed annually on the Barbados Motoring Federation’s (BMF) calendar were reduced to 27 in 2020, then even further to 19 last year, there was – and is – still much to be positive about the part played by motor sport in island life and in sports-tourism.

Barbadian teenagers Zane Maloney and Kyffin Simpson, who started their careers racing karts at Bushy Park, hit the headlines on either side of the Atlantic: Zane claimed a memorable victory in Monte Carlo in Formula Regional European, helping R-ace GP to the 2021 Team’s title, while Kyffin won the FR Americas Championship. This year, island fans will be following Kyffin in Indy Lights, the final step before Indycar, while Zane will be heading for FIA F3 as he pursues his dream of a seat in Formula 1.

Back home, the BMF, its member clubs, their volunteer officials and, not least, the island’s competitors have all shown commendable resilience during the frequent changes to the regulatory background caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, the island’s vast body of spectators, among the most enthusiastic and vociferous in the world, has needed to be even more resilient, as the prevailing Covid protocols have meant events running behind closed doors for the best part of two years. That said, local on-line media platforms have done their best to live-stream the action.

Sol Rally Barbados 2020 did run, with a smaller entry than had become the norm in recent years and postponed from June to October; despite that, the event still made a huge impact, thanks in part to a window in lockdown protocols allowing spectators to line the route. Furthermore, an entry from American motor sport and social media icon Ken Block would mean a wealth of worldwide on-line coverage, thanks to his around six million followers on each of Facebook and Instagram.

Armed with a brand new M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2, Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were in the lead battle from early; Jamaica’s Jeff Panton broke an axle within two stages of an almost certain seventh win in the island’s premier event, dropping him to third behind Block and Britain’s Rob Swann, both in Fiesta WRCs. BMF President Andrew Mallalieu (Fiesta R5) was the highest-placed Bajan, having led the early stages, his fourth place and Block’s win helping to stoke growing island enthusiasm for the FIA R5 class, which looks set to have an entry in double figures for the first time this year.

Indeed, the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) Champion Driver for 2021, Stuart Maloney, won his first rallying title in a Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo from that class, to add to his two circuit-racing titles (2008 CMRC, 2018 Radical Caribbean Cup). With five of the planned eight rounds run, Maloney ran neck and neck all year with Clubman 2 class-winner, Rookie Chris Hoad (BimmaCup), another new name on the Rally Club’s Roll of Honour as its looks forward to celebrating its 65th Anniversary this year.

One milestone which the ongoing pandemic meant could not be properly marked last year was Bushy Park’s half-century. Host to its first race meet on Independence Day 1971, which once again fell on a Tuesday 50 years later, the St Philip facility had introduced strict Covid-19 protocols to permit limited operations within Government guidelines. So, while the venue’s popular Karting Experiences attracted up to 300 socially-distanced patrons each month and autocross and speed events ran behind closed doors, often under scrutiny from the Covid-19 Monitoring Unit, there was no actual race meeting at which to celebrate. Perhaps this year, pandemic permitting?

While the Barbados Association of Dragsters & Drifters (BADD), Barbados Karting Association (BKA) and Bushy Park Motor Sports Inc (BPMSI) did not manage to run a 2021 championship, with lack of spectator revenue a vital factor in the decision process for BADD and BPMSI, the Rally Club’s five-round Autocross season did go ahead behind closed doors, with recently-appointed BMF Women in Motorsport Chair Natya Soodeen the first female to win the series outright, claiming the Ladies and Novice titles as well.

At the Vaucluse Raceway, which overlooks the West Coast from its hilltop vantage point in the central parish of St Thomas, there was yet another new name added to the island’s list of champions. All but two of the scheduled 16 rounds of BimmaCup Barbados were run, along with the concluding part of the 2020/21 BimmaCup Caribbean, split between two seasons, as the pandemic had disrupted regional travel. After a mixture of RallySprint, Rallycross, even Rallychase, reviving a format from a decade or so ago, with a single-venue stage rally thrown in for good measure in November, Rookie Sean Corbin emerged the delighted winner of the domestic competition, while Ian Warren added the regional title to his BimmaCup BB win of last year.

While the pandemic is clearly not yet over, as this is written in December 2021, work is under way to ensure that motor sport will continue to play a significant part in island life. Sol Rally Barbados is scheduled to return to its mid-year date, once the requirements of the Covid-19 Monitoring Unit can be met, and there is a real hunger among competitors to dust off their competition vehicles – and themselves – and return to action.

Watch this space!