Kiwi legend ready for Rally Barbados
- 26th May 2016, 1:03am
After reading about it in magazines for years, and checking it out in person in 2014, Kiwi rally legend Mike Marshall made a return to competitive special stage rallying last year at the 25th annual Sol Rally Barbados tarmac motor rally on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
This year he is returning for the 26th running of the high-profile event over the June 04-05 weekend, and he is not doing things by halves.
"Last year my son Nick and I took a car each, Nick our Peugeot 206 and me my 106," says Marshall. " Nick finished third in his class and I was fifth or something in mine, but I don't mind telling you, I was pretty disappointed with my times because I knew that if we had been competing here in New Zealand I would have done a lot better."
Marshall, now 73, won Rally New Zealand in 1975, and was the first New Zealand rally driver to compete with success on the world stage.
Barbados might not be on the radar of the average Kiwi but the Auckland businessman and life-long rally fan says that the island - and the unique car scene that has developed on it - is well known in the UK and Europe.
"The island itself is only half as big again as Great Barrier so it is quite small, but it is cross-crossed by something like 11 or 1200 kilometres of tarmac roads and it is these the rally uses. The event itself has been going for 25 years now and it is the biggest thing there is there every year."
Works WRC Citroen driver Chris Meeke is a two-time former winner (2008 and 2009) and this year WSC 2 class points leader Elfyn Evans and co-driver Craig Parry head a 91-strong entry list, with over half the driver/co-driver pairings coming from overseas.
Cars entered range from the new Ford Focus R5 Evo Evans will drive through late Subaru Impreza WRXs and Mitsubishi Evo 4WDs to classic Ford Escort BDAs and the local specialty, highly-modified rear-wheel-drive Toyota Starlets.
"They're incredible," Marshall says of the wild KP61 models that were a popular choice for aspiring Kiwi rally drivers 20 years ago. "They run 1800cc engines, quick change diffs, paddle shift gearboxes, weigh under 800kgs and the best ones are as quick as a WRC car."
To help 'level the playing field' for his return this year, Marshall and local preparation specialist Paul Weir stripped the 106, lightened it by around 100kgs and swapped the car's original H-pattern gearbox for a trick new Sadev one and Geartronics paddle shift kit.
That should make the car marginally quicker but, more importantly for Marshall, much easier to drive on the typically tight Barbados roads.
Marshall, Weir, co-driver Marc Keen and their wives left for Barbados today and before the rally itself Marshall and Keen will spend the best part of a week familiarizing themselves with the roads - and pace notes - on the official recce.
As fellow 73-year-old driver Ken Smith continues to prove, age is no barrier in motorsport. All you need is the desire, a car and - in Marshall's case - a sense of perspective.
"I'm obviously going to try the best I can," he says, "but by the same token, I'm not going to ruin a good holiday because of it!"
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