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Panton crowned king in Barbados

By Rory Daley
Observer writer
daleyr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 01, 2017

JAMAICAN rally driver Jeffrey Panton became the first overseas driver to win the Barbados Rally Club's (BRC) Championship driver's title in the BRC Winter Rally run from November 24 to 25.

He accomplished the feat with his long-time navigator Michael Fennell Jr.

“It feels great winning it, as it was up there with one of my other goals, a three-peat of Rally Barbados,” Panton told the Jamaica Observer's Auto magazine.

Panton is dubbed the crowning 'official' as over the past two years he's won enough events to garner the points to take the championship, but never bothered to enter until this year. On top of a tough finale, despite total victories, he still didn't call his title win easy.

“The points are scored by the amount of people in the class and often the WRC class is undersubscribed, so you have to fight for every point,” he said.

The Jamaican pair also clinched the 2017 World Rally Car (WRC) and four-wheel-drive class championships in his Ford Focus WRC. Their final event was far from easy as the event was hit with what BRC Winter Rally director Neil Bernard was quoted in the Bajan media as “one of the toughest rallies I have ever been involved in as an organiser”. The opening day was hit with what he called “biblical” rain.

“The Bajan stages are tricky enough in the dry. Because of the rain we were dealing with standing water, a misfire, and then our windshield started to mist up. However, we ended up learning a lot about our car,” Panton explained.

Had the two not finished, Panton would not have been able to clinch the BRC title.

Panton indicated that the 2017 title was built on his commitment to racing in Barbados which began with him carrying the Ford Focus WRC to the island.

“Rallying in Barbados takes a lot of local knowledge,” he said.

Add in the island's ability to draw top international rallying talent, such as former British Rally Champion Paul Bird.

Importantly for Panton, he's found himself welcome as local.

“You would think a Jamaican driver coming and winning everything would create resentment, but has been anything but that. There's always a kind word from fellow competitors and the fans come out in their droves.”

With the BRC Champion driver title under his belt Panton has been looking towards the other rallying island for 2018.

“I don't think we'll be pursing the championship next year. I went to Martinique this year, liked it, so we're planning a return.”