Why you must experience Rally Barbados

Passionate fans, iconic cars and challenging stages, Rally Barbados has it all says DirtFish deputy editor Luke Barry

RB Sunday-42

I love an island rally. The whole place is seized by rally magic as the world’s finest drivers and machines take over a usually quiet habitat.

I’ve experienced it on Mull. I’m sure the feeling would be similar had I been in Sardinia for the latest round of the World Rally Championship. But for once, I was more than happy to miss a round of the WRC. Barbados was calling instead.

And let’s get one thing clear right out of the gate: it’s absolutely as good as everybody has told you it is.

I must confess I didn’t know too much about Rally Barbados before boarding my flight to the Caribbean. Truthfully, I was actually feeling quite nervous.

RB Sunday-101

It was a last-minute arrangement, and I don’t tend to excel in new situations where I can’t picture where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing, and given I’d never been outside of Europe before – let alone for work – I was looking at everything from the wrong perspective. Fear of the unknown, not excitement for an adventure of a lifetime.

Visiting my parents the weekend prior, that’s exactly what they told me. They don’t usually take a particular interest in any locations I may travel to for rallies, but they were all over this one, and dumbfounded by my attitude. No disrespect to Llandudno in Wales, but it doesn’t quite have the same mass appeal as Barbados, does it?

As my dad quite succinctly put it: “If this is the biggest of your problems you really don’t have a problem.” Well, here is my open apology to them and indeed anybody reading this that’s rightfully thinking I was off my head. You were right. This experience has been everything I could ever have hoped it would be, and a whole lot more.

RB Sunday-13

The one thing I suspected I wouldn’t particularly enjoy was the intense heat. And indeed, stepping off the plane into the lunchtime Caribbean air – for a pasty white Scotsman like me – was akin to walking into a room and somebody blasting a hairdryer directly into your face at full power.

It’s something you learn to live with, but it certainly takes some adjusting.

What I absolutely wasn’t prepared for though was just how welcoming everybody is. As one competitor described: “You’re made to feel part of the island, not just a tourist.” And it couldn’t be truer.

Everybody, from hotel staff, rally organizers, spectators, people at gas stations, were just so utterly friendly, wanted to talk and wanted to help if and where they could.

He's a legend, and capable of a mean handbrake turn too as demonstrated around a tight hairpin in a hotel car park!

And this is where I must introduce you to Scott Davis. Scott’s a local tour guide on the island and has competed on rallies in the past before falling out of love with the sport and then finding it again a few years ago.

He took me and my girlfriend around on both rally days Saturday and Sunday, and it was simply sensational. What this man doesn’t know about Barbados is not worth knowing, and he made it his mission to make sure we were fed, watered, happy and where we needed to be at all times.

He’s a legend, and capable of a mean handbrake turn too as demonstrated around a tight hairpin in a hotel car park. Thank you, Scott, sincerely.

It’s perhaps quite bizarre that I’ve got this far into a column about a rally and not mentioned any rally cars, so I best address that.

The experience attached to the rally is undoubtedly what makes this rally such a gem. That’s not to talk down the quality of the competition or spectacle, but more to emphasize just how much of a buzz the organizers manage to create.

At face value, the ceremonial start opposite a Chefette – there are 14 branches across the island (told you Scott knows everything) – and through the forecourt of one of event sponsor Sol’s gas stations hardly sounds like an occasion to remember.

But let me tell you, the Bajans know how to create an atmosphere. It was bouncing – and it was exactly the same story when we hit the special stages. Truthfully it felt like a festival, not a rally. Rallying in Barbados’ biggest spectator sport and it absolutely shows.

Numbers and numbers of people lined the route, all complete with gazebo-style tents, barbecues, enough drink to sink a ship (stored in an ice-cold coolbox) and music blaring from speakers. It’s an overused phrase in today’s society, but it was just good vibes.

RB Sunday-48

The Bushy Park superspecial was a case in point. At a glance it resembled the famous Langley Park test in Australia – widely regarded as one of the best superspecials in WRC history – but of course this one was asphalt. An obscene tropical downpour did its best to spoil the mood, but still the party continued, and the crowd roared as the #0 car performed a series of donuts.

Even after the rally the show still went on. I’ve never, ever been to a prize giving ceremony with such energy and such impeccable attendance, put it that way.

Dane Skeete was a fully deserved winner too. It was a shame that both Stuart and Zane Maloney (who by the way was massively impressive given this was his first proper rally) bowed out of the contest so early as it kind of took the sting out of the race for victory, but nobody can say Skeete didn’t deserve it.

He had a plan, he stuck to it, and it paid off handsomely. Plus, it was great to not only see, and more pertinently hear, a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car on the stages but also for it to win against the more modern Rally2 cars was somewhat pleasing. It’s nice to know the old guard can still cut it.

RB Sunday-37

Winning Rally Barbados is no walk in the park either. If I suffered in the heat, spare a thought for the competitors strapped inside a warm rally car – with no real ventilation – all while wearing helmets, balaclavas and fireproofs. No thanks.

And the stages are menacing too. It’s not just the rum around here that comes with a punch, any wrong move and you’re in trouble. The grip is extremely low, roads quite rough and corners deceptively narrow and tricky with absolutely no margin for error. In short, competing in Barbados at least is certainly no holiday.

But if there are three things for you and I to take away from this rambling of words, let it be this.

Take any opportunity you can in life – I was never realistically going to turn this chance down but I had no need to be feeling apprehensive whatsoever. Feel confident to take a brave step when you know that step will be worth it. I’m not getting my flight home with memories of a great weekend’s rallying but memories of a simply unforgettable experience.

Rallying can be taken to the people, and anybody that says it can’t, must examine Rally Barbados and cut themselves a slice of humble pie. I’ve not been all over the world for rallies, but I’ve seen enough, and I can confidently tell you that nowhere does it quite like the Bajans. It really has to be experienced.

And finally, go to Barbados. Preferably on the first weekend of June. I know that’s when I’ll be planning my next visit.

Words:Luke Barry