Last month’s penultimate round of the 2017 World Rally Championship, Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, resonated with echoes of Sol Rally Barbados, as the two first-time winners each had Caribbean connections. M-Sport driver Elfyn Evans, who finished third in Sol RB16, won his first WRC event, while Tom Preston claimed his first-ever outright victory in the WRGB National Rally, before confirming his participation in Sol RB18.
 As the huge crowd at the Ceremonial Finish in Llandudno on the north coast of Wales cheered Evans’s home victory, the first by a Welsh driver on Britain’s round of the WRC, there were parallel celebrations for Preston (Hippo Motor Group Skoda Fabia R5) and co-driver Andrew Roughead, another Barbados connection, having finished third in Sol RB17 with Kevin Procter. After the finish, Preston said: "This is my first rally win. It's been a good laugh today and we were desperate to win. Although there were only three short stages on Sunday, it was still possible to mess it up."
 Preston’s trip to Sol RB18 will be his second, having previously travelled to the island with a Group N Subaru Impreza in 2003, the year that the BRC’s premier event, formerly the International All-Stage Rally, was renamed Rally Barbados; although he was not an overall finisher, he enjoyed the experience hugely: “We said confidently that we’d be back the next year . . . but it will have taken us 15 years to make that happen! We started developing a new business, then the family came along, but we are so looking forward to coming back.”
 His co-driver will be Carl Williamson, the 2016 British Trial & Rally Drivers Association (BTRDA) Co-drivers Champion, when he partnered Charlie Payne; in a 20-year career, the Welshman has sat with Jari-Matti Latvala in his early British Rally Championship days, as well as Mark Higgins and Steve Perez, while he also has previous Barbados experience, as co-driver for Andrew Siddall in an historic Ford Escort MkI in 2013.
 Preston has campaigned a wide range of cars, including a BMW M3, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI and Evo IX, an ex-works Ford Focus WRC01 and Skoda Fabia R5. He finished third in the WRGB National 2 Day Rally in 2013 in the Evo VI, then had BTRDA class wins in the Rainworth Skoda Dukeries Rally and Trackrod Stages in 2014 in the Evo IX, before acquiring the Focus, in which Carlos Sainz finished second in the 2001 Monte Carlo Rally.
 A class podium on the 2015 Trackrod was his best result in the Focus – the co-driver on that occasion was also Roughead – which was replaced with a Skoda Fabia R5 early in 2016. Mixing BTRDA events with rounds of the British Rally Championship, Preston picked up a number of top 10 finishes, then was leading the 2016 edition of the WRGB National Rally after the first two stages until rolling the Fabia in Hafren Forest; although out of the running for leading honours, Preston rewarded the CA1 Sport outfit, who had worked until the early hours to get the car ready to compete again on Saturday, with stage wins at Cholmondeley and Brenig.
 This year’s event went far more smoothly, Preston quick off the mark and fastest on the first two stages, a blast through Cholmondeley Castle in front of thousands of spectators, followed by a more challenging stage through Aberhirnant forest. SS3 was where Preston had rolled into retirement 12 months earlier but, despite spinning to a halt leaving him facing the wrong direction, he survived.
 Undaunted by that mishap, Preston responded by winning Gartheiniog and Dyfi to give him a comfortable 25secs overnight advantage over last year’s winner, Scotland’s Bruce McCombie (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX), and Roger Duckworth in his Subaru Impreza WRC S6, familiar to fans in Barbados, where he finished third in Sol RB17. Thanks to his lead, Preston was able to back off on Sunday’s three short stages, leading McCombie and Duckworth home to the Ceremonial Finish in Llandudno for his first-ever rally win.
On-line entries flow in at record rate
Overseas interest in Sol Rally Barbados surged to record levels in the first few weeks after on-line entries opened on Sunday, October 1. Within the first seven days, 32 International entries had been posted, eight of them from crews new to the event, compared with totals of 21 and five for the equivalent period last year; by the end of October, the number had risen to 38, a total not reached until early February for this year’s event.
 Sol RB18 Chairman Mark Hamilton said: “If I’m honest, the organising team is in shock! The solid level of support for Sol Rally Barbados each year pays tribute to all of those volunteers involved in putting the event together . . . but this is something else; looking through the list so far, I’m delighted to see the names of so many of our regulars, but particularly interested in some of the newcomers.
 “There seems to be a real boom this year. Some of our repeat visitors only come every other year, and it seems that a lot of them will coincide for 2018 . . . and word of mouth means the regulars are bringing newcomers with them. While there is along way to go before our Club volunteers help unload the Geest Line freighter at the Port next May, the early signs suggest a very special event next year.”
Sol Rally Barbados and Flow King of the Hill are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017; Sol RB18 marks the 11th year of title sponsorship by the Sol Group, the Caribbean’s largest independent oil company, and the third by communications provider Flow.
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