Rally Barbados regular Paul Horton of the Turks & Caicos Rally Team debuted his recently-acquired Citroen C3 Rally2 at the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages on Saturday (January 21), as the UK motor sport season got under way in very cold but sunny conditions. The event was won by John Griffiths in a Ford Fiesta R5 co-driven by Emma Morrison, one of three co-drivers with island connections who delivered class-winning performances on the day.

 Horton and regular co-driver, three-time British Rally Champion Matt Edwards, finished 30th, setting top 10 times on the last five stages and clawing their way back from 90th after they were among a number of crews to record stage maximums on the day’s first test. The 40-mile event ran over four different stage layouts, using sections of the world-famous race circuit, the surrounding service roads and the Brands Hatch Rally School. At the end of the day, Horton said: “It was a pity about the first stage and then a couple of start-line stalls, otherwise could have been sixth or seventh overall, but I’m happy with the positive start we have made in some tricky conditions at times.”

 Edwards had travelled to mainland Europe with Horton in December to test the Citroen, which has been bought from a team in Poland, who also wrapped the car in its striking Java Island livery before it arrived in the UK. Horton said: “They took us to a test facility in the Czech Republic, where Matt drove the car first, then we tried it out together. I was looking for something different and this fits the bill. The team had rallied an earlier C3, which was rolled on its 16th event, then rebuilt into a much newer chassis, one of the last ones produced, which has only done a couple of events.”

 Although Horton’s most recent mount has been a Fiesta R5, in which he finished 11th in the island’s premier event last year, he had previously rallied a Citroen DS 3 R3 MAX, in which he won Modified 2 and finished 18th overall in Sol RB17. Edwards has been on board as co-driver and driver coach since 2020, which has been positive for Horton’s development: “I’m very happy with the progress we’ve been making and I’m definitely going to continue, as I still have much more to learn and areas I can improve on. I will certainly have more to learn with the new car, but I don’t see that as a backward step.”

 Before the car is shipped over the Atlantic to start the build-up to Rally Barbados (June 10/11), Horton has secured an entry for the East Riding Stages at the end of February, a closed road rally in Yorkshire, a part of the UK in which British-born Horton spent much of his childhood: “I’m really excited to have an entry as the event is quite difficult to get into and it will give me a chance to drive some stages which are more like those we run on in the island.”
 And the competition will seem pretty familiar, too, the provisional entry list already including four-time Sol Rally Barbados runner-up Rob Swann, who will drive his Ford Fiesta WRC, the Fiestas S2000s of regular visitors Kevin Procter and Nigel Worswick and Joe Cunningham in his 2-litre Fiesta R5.

 The win for Griffiths and Morrison, who has sat with frequent visitors Andrew Costin-Hurley and Martin Stockdale in Barbados, was their second in the MGJ Engineering Circuit Rally Championship 2022-23 after Cadwell Park last November so they have extended their lead in the Driver and Co-Driver standings respectively. They led throughout, winning four of the eight stages to beat Paul Murro and Callum Cross (Fiesta R5) by 29 seconds, with John Stone and Callum Young (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) third.

 Class wins also went to Dylan Thomas, who has competed in the island four times, and Liz Jordan, who has twice finished Sol Rally Barbados sitting with veteran Dick Mauger. Thomas finished sixth overall, winning Class 5 in Richard Weaver’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, while Jordan and her long-term driving partner Tim Mewett were 14th overall, taking Class 3 by just 5secs in their Ford Escort MkII, overhauling the similar car of Gary Mason on the very last stage.

Rally Barbados is a tarmac rally, with around 20 special stages run on the island’s intricate network of public roads, under road closure orders granted by the Ministry of Transport, Works & Water Resources; the previous Sunday’s King of the Hill ‘shakedown’, run under a similar arrangement, features four timed runs on a roughly four-kilometre stage, the results of which are used to seed the running order for the main event.

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