Ireland’s Ronan Curley nearly missed Tuesday’s (May 8) trans-Atlantic Geest Line voyage from Portsmouth, as a last-minute gearbox problem threatened to ruin his plans to compete in Sol Rally Barbados 2012 (June 9/10) . . . and he has fellow-competitor Samuel Kelso and Ford Escort specialists Den Motorsport to thank that it didn’t.
Having followed the event in recent years, Curley and close friend Conor McMeel both decided to enter their Vauxhall-engined MkII Ford Escorts in the Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sport International. Curley said: “Barbados clashes with the Donegal Rally, which we have competed in since 2003, but I decided to do something different this year. After watching our friend Kris Meeke win the rally twice, we decided along with another good friend Conor McMeel to go for it!”
But all did not go smoothly in the final run-up to the 1000-mile round trip to Portsmouth, as Curley explains: “We were literally about to put the car on the trailer and our gearbox broke. Tractive was closed for holidays, so there were no spare parts. We have Samuel Kelso and Den Motorsport to thank - Samuel gave us his gearbox, so we raced down to Den Motorsport, where the boys changed it from his car to ours and put the car on the transporter to Portsmouth just in the nick of time!”
Curley, from Limavady, Co Londonderry, was born into a rallying family and this Escort is shared between himself and his brother. Father Cathal was one of the country’s top drivers in the 1970s and ‘80s, winning the Circuit of Ireland – a five-day marathon back then – plus the Donegal, Manx and Ulster rallies in a Porsche 911RS, before driving a works 240Z for Datsun and a Lancia Stratos for the Chequered Flag Team.
With co-driver John McKinley, Curley Junior has been rallying since 1998, with numerous top 10 finishes – well-driven MkII Escorts regularly finish in the top five overall in Irish National events – including a class win on the ‘Circuit’ and class podiums in Donegal and on the Sligo Stages.
Curley’s NIIB Finance/Premier Car Parts Escort, which will run in SuperModified 11, is built to what he describes as “ultimate Irish tarmac specification”, with a 2.5-litre John Read Racing Vauxhall engine, pumping out around 315bhp, Reiger fully-adjustable suspension and AP brakes on 15-inch wheels. While McMeel’s GMM Electrics-backed car, his second MkII, produces a more modest 287bhp from its 2-litre Vauxhall engine, he should still make an impression in SM10.
McMeel, who lives an hour or so from Curley in Toomebridge, Co Antrim, which is also home to British Superbike Championship front-runners John and Michael Laverty, began rallying in 1991 in his first MkII. He has been partnered by co-driver Sean Devlin for 15 years, tackling similar events to Curley, including the ‘Circuit’, Donegal International and Ulster Rally. Devlin, who lives in Magherafelt, Co Derry, is also currently competing in a works Nissan Micra, in which he has been both driver and co-driver.

Swann in good spirits, “can’t wait” for Sol Rally Barbados
England’s Rob Swann, who finished fifth last year with Welsh co-driver Darren Garrod in a rented Subaru Impreza WRC S12, “can’t wait” Sol Rally Barbados 2012, despite having no chance to test his completely rebuilt Revolution Wheels/Waves Hotel Impreza.
As he explained earlier in the year, “the WRC hire option was not possible due to a lack of cars so, with future events in mind, I decided to build a B13 spec Impreza.” The N14 in which he won Group N in Barbados and Jamaica in 2010 has undergone a major upgrade at TEG Sport in the north of England: stripped to a bare shell, lightened, then dipped and re-sprayed, it now has a WRC build spec engine, with a six-speed sequential gearbox and active centre diff. Unfortunately, the planned completion by the end of March did not happen, so there has been no testing.
Last week, Swann said: “We did a few runs up and down a section of road near TEG to check diff maps and anti-lag settings. The car feels good, and very familiar; it is very much my Group N car - even the seats are original - so the feeling is good. We have changed from Ohlins to Reiger dampers, so there’s a bit to do there, and the sequential gearbox is new for me, but has flat shift and is fairly easy to use. I just can't wait!”
Sol Rally Barbados and Shell V-Power King of the Hill are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007; Sol RB12 is the 23rd running of the Club’s annual International All-Stage Rally and marks the fifth year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company.
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