What makes Rally Barbados so special?

The stages might be short in comparison to other events, but they're also intense

Saturday Dirt Fish-2

A deserted island with beaches, palm trees, plenty of rum – sounds like the ideal holiday, doesn’t it?

But why just go on holiday when you can also go rallying at the same time?

Welcome to Rally Barbados.

There really is something special about this event. There must be, given this is one of the most internationally loved rallies you’ll ever come across – despite it never having hosted a major international rally championship before.

“There are other territories around the globe that have rallies on islands – the Canaries, Azores which are fabulous events,” Neil Barnard, Rally Barbados rally director, admits to DirtFish.


“But the difference really with the rally, because it is run in a small location – the island is just 106 square miles long – it is actually very compact. The longest stage we run is about eight kilometers and the shortest is around five.

“So although the stages are short, the reality is the time between them is also short so you are doing three stages in nearly 90 minutes. It’s not what it seems. That coupled with the heat… I can tell you already we had first timers who competed on Sunday in the King of the Hill and they were a bit taken aback by it. 

“Even though that event was only about 20 stage kilometers they felt a bit shattered at the end of it, but a lot of that’s to do with the heat. And again it’s short time spaces in between stages so that’s from a rally perspective and how the rally is structured, and that’s a bit different

“And then of course there’s the atmosphere. Bajan rally fans are very knowledgeable and they’re very excitable. They get very involved, they will come up and have a chat with you and they are very knowledgeable about what goes on outside of the island. 

They love somebody that drives very flamboyantly, that goes down a treat Neil Barnard

“One of the drivers at the weekend was saying that he could hear the crowd when he was going through the stage, again he was kind of taken aback by that. 

“They love somebody that drives very flamboyantly, that goes down a treat. But they also fully appreciate people that drive very quickly and very well, and we’ve had a number of people over the years that have come over to the island and become instant legends. 

“Charlie Jukes came here 20 years ago, he’s a Welsh competitor and he came here in an eight-valve Proton and he won his class and he drove that thing as if there was absolutely no tomorrow and beat one of our quickest two-wheel-drive boys in the process. No one has ever forgotten that drive, they’ve just never forgotten it. 

“We’ve had Kris Meeke come and won, he’s a bit of a legend, and Simon Jean-Joseph has come on two or three occasions – he’s never won the rally but he has huge amounts of respect from the fans and he certainly wasn’t driving flamboyantly, he was just driving extremely quickly.

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“Rallying on the Caribbean island is a bit of a unique situation.”

It certainly is, and it’s a flavor of rallying DirtFish is set to experience for the first time this weekend.

We’re in for a treat.

But landing on Thursday, potentially still flying above the Atlantic Ocean thanks to Virgin Atlantic as you read this, we’ve already missed the beginning of the rallying fever.

The precursor to Rally Barbados, the King of the Hill, ran last Sunday offering competitors a chance to bed themselves in – but also crucially dictated the seeding for this weekend’s two-day, 19-stage rally. 


And there was plenty of local cheer as Formula 3 racer and Barbados national Zane Maloney topped the times in his Škoda.

“I think he was slightly surprised,” says Barnard.

“The local drivers know these roads like the back of their hands, there’s no point saying it any differently. Professional drivers who have come and won it on their first event have done so because they’re professional drivers like Kris Meeke – in both cases he was not in the best car of the rally either, and he was given a proper fight he didn’t run away with it. 

“Zane has obviously won the British F4 championship, he’s done well in F3, has certainly been on the pace, but he’s driven the Fabia in competition maybe only twice before. He’s clearly so talented and there’s a level of confidence there with him. 

“Kreigg [Yearwood], who used to work alongside me in organizing the event but has abdicated his position to sit next to Zane, was telling me he’s never sat next to anybody who has the same mental approach as Zane. His confidence is just so sky high. 

“It’s not that he believes he can be fastest, it’s just that his approach is just so supremely confident in his own abilities to go quickly, not necessarily to win. He’s certainly settled in quickly, it’s a bit of a stunning result. I don’t know what to expect from this weekend, it’s a longer rally with longer stages, but who knows?”

He is one of three members of the Maloney family to be competing this weekend, as Stuart and Mark will both start in similar Fabia machines. Stuart was second on King of the Hill, just 0.2 seconds off his nephew Zane’s pace.

Dane Skeete has to start as a favorite in his Subaru Impreza S12B WRC given he’s not only a past winner himself but learned his trade from father Roger Skeete, who has more Rally Barbados wins than any other driver. Jamaican Jeffrey Panton – five times a winner – is starting the event in a Rally2 car for the first time.

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There’s plenty of other international interest too with UK driver Frank Bird – son of two-time Barbados winner Paul – tipped to cause a stir.

“He has caused a bit of a buzz already,” Barnard admits. 

“Frank is primarily a circuit racer but he’s done very well on circuit-based rally events in the UK, very, very well so Sunday suited him to a T as half the stage was conducted in our rallycross facility. 

“But in saying all of that, for him to turn up having never competed here before and finish on the podium is a bit remarkable. He is definitely going to be one to watch this weekend for sure.”

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Robert Swann has challenged for the Barbados win on numerous occasions in the past but the top step of the podium still eludes him. He was supposed to compete in his Impreza S12B this weekend but a mechanical problem on King of the Hill has necessitated a switch to a Fiesta Rally2 instead.

DirtFish will bring you all the action – and color – from across the Rally Barbados weekend, but by Barnard’s own admission “this week is a vacation before Saturday where the helmets go on and it’s full focus”.

Would be rude not to order a rum punch, or two.