Trinidad & Tobago’s David Coelho is the first regional entry confirmed for Sol Rally Barbados 2020, bringing to 10 the number of four-wheel-drive entries so far posted on-line, with huge growth anticipated in those classes, particularly with Sol RB20’s inclusion in the 2020 FIA NACAM Championship. The 31st running of the Barbados Rally Club’s (BRC) premier event is scheduled for Friday to Sunday, May 29 to 31, with The Rally Show and Flow King of the Hill the previous weekend.

Coelho and his Subway/Zanzibar/Kaizan Sushi Ford Fiesta R5 are the longest-established partnership in the FIA R5 class in the island, following the car’s arrival late in 2018, having contested eight across both the two organising Clubs. He finished seventh overall in the BRC’s 2019 Champion Driver title chase and third in 4wd, also winning the FIA R5 title, albeit against limited competition, a situation which is about to change.

While he was the first R5 regular in Barbados, Coelho acknowledges the pioneering work of Martinique’s Simon Jean-Joseph and T&T’s John Powell, who first rallied a Fiesta R5 in the region; Jean-Joseph finished second in Rally Trinidad 2015, before Powell used the same car to win Rally Trinidad the following year. Welshman Elfyn Evans, who finished third for his new Toyota team in this season’s opening WRC round in Monte Carlo, was the first driver to compete in Barbados in an R5-spec car, finishing third in both Flow KotH and Sol RB16 in the same Fiesta in 2016.

Coelho said: “We would have to credit Simon and John for being the true pioneers in R5; John might have been a little early, but he was on point with his vision for the future, as he has been for many years, building classes and adding competitors. . . . and here we are! We’re excited and encouraged by what I can only term as explosive growth in the R5 class and I think it is going to be an amazing season of racing. We are going to try to compete in as many events as possible for 2020, hopefully the whole BRC and Motoring Club calendars. The action level will be high.”

Former T&T kart and circuit racing Champion Coelho has a mixed history in Sol RB, which he has missed only once since 2010, his first season in rallying; while he has always finished King of the Hill – eighth in 2018 was his first top 10 result - he has been an overall finisher in the main event only three times. At the wheel of his former Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, he put four years of DNFs behind him in 2015, third in Group N (18th overall), winning the BRC GpN title at year-end, then finished second in GpN (17th overall) the following year.
His DNFs came through a variety of mechanical dramas: in 2018, steering rack; Sol RB17 engine; Sol RB14 gearbox mount, but the inherent reliability of the R5-spec car carried him through to sixth overall and third in FIA R5 last year. Coelho says: “I am not missing the grief that accompanied the regular mechanical failures with the Evo. The R5 is very capable and reliable - it’s not going to awe you with power and torque, but can be very quick. Clearly, internationally, the concept has proven itself and I’m looking forward to competing in a class that looks as though it might hit double figures!”