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How rallying is helping a Red Bull Formula 1 hopeful

It’s not often you see a current Formula 2 driver on a rally entry list, but that was the case at last weekend’s Rally Barbados. Motorsport.com followed Red Bull junior Zane Maloney’s progress as he aims to boost his Formula 1 quest by swapping the circuit for asphalt stages

Over the years several Formula 1 drivers have tried their hand at rallying, think Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, who both enjoyed spells in the World Rally Championship in the last decade. But few drivers harbouring dreams of climbing the ladder to reach the pinnacle of motorsport have chosen to enhance their chances through rallying.

Step forward Red Bull F1 junior Zane Maloney. Simply known as the ‘The boy from Barbados’, the 19-year-old Formula 2 racer can lay claim to being the only driver in the world to take on the unusual F2 Monaco and Spanish rounds and Rally Barbados triple-header.

Last weekend is the second consecutive year he’s returned to his much loved Caribbean island home, famous for being a tourist hotspot, to swap the cutthroat world of F2 for the challenging tarmac stages of Rally Barbados. It begs the question, why jump behind the wheel of a latest spec Skoda Fabia Rally2 car to take on the notoriously challenging world of rallying during an F2 campaign?

For Maloney, it’s a simple yet multi-faceted answer: “Why not?” Maloney, who sits ninth in the F2 standings, tells Motorsport.com. “We have an amazing rally here in Barbados. I usually can’t do much rallying during the year because of my F2 season, but Rally Barbados always lines up perfectly and I’m able to do it. What is better than driving an R5 car around Barbados? It is loads of fun and it is good to get in another car to drive and learn new skills.

“I’m very fortunate to be here rallying in Barbados. My sponsors are amazing and they have allowed me to do this and any opportunity there is to jump in a car I will be there. I love racing. Racing is my passion, rallying is difficult and it is a different genre of motorsport, so it will be tough.”

To add some context to this F1 hopeful’s rallying adventure, the Maloney name in Barbados is synonymous in motorsport and rallying in particular. Zane’s uncles Mark and Stuart both compete regular in Skoda Rally2 cars in the national R5 Championship, and it was only in the last two years that his grandfather stopped competing. Motorsport is in the Maloney blood and it’s a passion that has swept the island.

From the outside Barbados has the reputation of being a picture postcard holiday paradise blessed with blazing sunshine, white sandy beaches and turquoise seas, but beyond that is a thriving motorsport community, with rallying at the heart of this love affair. This year marked the 33rd running of Rally Barbados and in that time it has welcomed a number of star-studded names, and can count former WRC rally winner Kris Meeke among its previous winners (2008-2009). Its unique asphalt challenge mixed with the friendly, enthusiastic and passionate Caribbean vibe has ensured the rally has become a national sporting highlight that not only welcomes thousands of local spectators but many from abroad too.

Zane Maloney revelled in his appearance on home roads at Rally Barbados

Zane Maloney revelled in his appearance on home roads at Rally Barbados

Aside from rallying, this small island that has 267,000 residents - significantly less than the crowd which attended last weekend’s clashing Le Mans 24 Hours - can also boast an impressive FIA Grade 4 track, the 2km Bushy Park circuit, owned by Mark Maloney. It’s a venue that welcomed Lewis Hamilton when it hosted the 2014 Race of Champions, and it’s where Zane cut his teeth before heading to Europe, first in karting before claiming the 2019 British F4 title that kickstarted his journey towards F1.

As Maloney openly admitted pre-event, competing in Rally Barbados is largely a bit of fun but there is more to why this Bajan teenager chooses to compete in rallies. A quick look at his 2022 Formula 3 season offers some insight. The campaign started with two-point scores from the opening six races but after contesting last year’s Rally Barbados, his full rally debut where he was running third before a crash, he scored eight points finishes from the remaining 12 races. It was a run that included three wins and a second place that propelled him to second in the standings, and he believes rallying played a large part in achieving that success.

“For me coming from circuit racing and how I have grown up in motorsport, to go onto stages I don’t know and push to the limit creates new skills, and then I can jump in the F2 car and be bit more on it than I was,” he says. "This is what happened last year. I had an amazing run to the end of the season and that was partly because of Rally Barbados. It helps you to learn new skills and how to be fast in any car and I’m always up for learning more things.”

"I had an amazing run to the end of the season [in 2022] and that was partly because of Rally Barbados. It helps you to learn new skills and how to be fast in any car and I’m always up for learning more things" Zane Maloney

It’s these skills of controlling a sliding rally car on bumpy roads and through tight corners which Maloney believes is transferable to single-seater racing, and in a way become an advantage.

“The rally car is always moving around and you don’t want a single-seater to move around but when you then get into the single-seater you are a bit more confident with it when it starts moving around,” he explains. “You still need a bit of movement in a single-seater car to go fast and coming rallying where you are sliding around a lot and then going back to the F2 car you feel more confident to let it slide a bit and be less nervous let’s say. For sure, it helps. The more information you can get in your brain, the better you will be in any car.”

While fun and performing in front of his hordes of fans were among the priorities, no racing driver goes into an event without a desire to challenge for honours. In order to maximise this opportunity for self-improvement, he took his Rally Barbados preparation to the next level this year. Seven-time WRC stage winner and former factory Subaru, Mitsubishi and semi-works Citroen driver Xavier ‘Xevi’ Pons was enlisted as a driver coach for the entire Maloney Racing operation. Prior to the rally Zane undertook a test day with Pons in Spain.

Maloney's mount cools off in the garage

Maloney's mount cools off in the garage

“He [Xevi] has given me lots of advice and information,” Maloney adds. “It [the test] was really cool. The roads were really different to here so to understand the difference was very difficult. This weekend was about having some fun but it has been great to take some advice from someone who has been in the game a long time.”

“Rallying is new for him but his speed is very good,” Pons, who still competes in rallies in Spain and Portugal alongside his coaching commitments, tells Motorsport.com.

“The roads are more complicated than other roads so this is normal to make some mistakes but he is a very, very good driver. I like to help drivers improve for the rallies and for me it is a challenge.

“The conditions of the roads [in Barbados] are very slippery and also the weather is very hot all of the time, but it has a really nice atmosphere and lots of spectators. I think it is a good rally. It is really challenging, it is amazing. Every stage is complicated.”

Maloney was only three-year-old when Pons was enjoying his WRC pomp in 2006. That year the Spaniard finished seventh in the championship, driving a Kronos-backed Citroen Xsara alongside world champion team-mates Sebastien Loeb, Colin McRae and Dani Sordo, who is still competing for Hyundai today. Although focused on his F1 dream, Zane is an avid watcher of the WRC and has full admiration for the skills the drivers possess as they fight their way through some of the toughest roads.

“With the pacenotes I struggle to listen to them while driving,” he says. "I really try to memorise the roads to make it more like a circuit, It is tough but that is what we have to do. What I see in the WRC, I can’t imagine doing that, they really have big balls. If you compare the highlight reels in F1 and F2 and you compare them to WRC, it is a whole different ball game. You see the cars sideways and then 20 feet in the air, it is crazy. I love watching any motorsport but especially WRC, it is great to watch the guys like Ott Tanak.

“I’m trying to make it to Formula 1 which is let’s say is the pinnacle of motorsport and then you watch the rallying and these guys are properly skilled, a bit like the riders in MotoGP. I can’t understand it, they are definitely more brave than me. They have so many skills and if you put them in a single-seater they would be quick as well.”

Hayden Paddon took a narrow victory on Rally Barbados

Hayden Paddon took a narrow victory on Rally Barbados

The preparation provided by Pons seemed to pay off as Maloney led Rally Barbados heading into Saturday after winning the first of 20 stages. Driving a Skoda emblazoned in the famous Red Bull colours, Maloney and co-driver Kreigg Yearwood managed to win the side-by-side super special held at Bushy Park by a second from local Dane Skeete. An impressive feat considering 2016 Rally Argentina winner and former WRC driver Hayden Paddon was some 1.24s adrift in a Rally2 Hyundai i20 N.

However, come Saturday Maloney was on the receiving end of something countless rally drivers have encountered. A misjudged entry to a jump on the day’s first stage sent his Skoda veering off the road at speed and unfortunately found a ditch. Luckily the car only received cosmetic damage and Maloney was able to rejoin the rally to finish the final 10 stages on Sunday. But plenty of lessons were learned which will no doubt be useful for his progression as a driver.

“We had a really good stage Friday night and we were leading the rally into Saturday,” he says. "It felt good to win the first stage [and beat Paddon] I wish I could show more of what we could do but it was great to win the first stage at Bushy Park.

While the disappointment of not being able to challenge for a victory on home soil was visible, Maloney is hoping the flashes of speed witnessed and the boost from the vociferous home crowd will once again provide the fuel to kickstart his F2 season in a carbon copy of 2022

“I was taking it quite cautious in the first stage of the day and we just hit a jump at the wrong angle and when you do that in rally car it shoots you in the way that your steering is going. We ended up in a ditch which was very unfortunate it was all flat and then there was a drop-off. If I didn’t get to that drop off I would have continued perfectly fine. It looked a lot worse than it was. This is the second rally in my life so I’m still getting used to things.”

While the disappointment of not being able to challenge for a victory on home soil was visible, Maloney is hoping the flashes of speed witnessed and the boost from the vociferous home crowd will once again provide the fuel to kickstart his F2 season in a carbon copy of 2022. But make no mistake 'The boy form Barbados' is far from done with rallying and Rally Barbados.

"The crowd in Barbados really support everyone that are driving which is great to see," the nation's poster boy adds while summing up his rally, as he takes selfies with the droves of fans all desperate to see a Bajan make it to F1.

 

"It was an amazing weekend even if we didn't get the result we wanted, but it was great to be back home and I will be back next year. To come back home and drive in front of everyone is a great feeling and it will give me lots of confidence to try and kickstart my season like I did last year. Any time I'm home and there is a rally on I will be there."

It appears a rematch of Maloney versus Paddon could be on the cards again next year too, such is the appeal of this island rally that has earned itself the reputation as a bucket list event. Paddon eventually emerged as the winner in a grandstand final stage showdown to overcome Skeete by 0.88s, to snatch victory after throwing away 14.59s lead, thanks to a high-speed spin on stage 11.

Paddon then won the final four stages despite losing a right-rear wheel in a wild moment on the penultimate stage to take the victory in style in Sunday's Bushy Park super special on his Barbados debut.

"After the spin, which we were lucky to get away, with I thought we had maybe lost it because it was going to be tough to get the time back. Dane did an awesome job and I really loved the battle, it has been good fun," Paddon tells Motorsport.com.

"I'm at the stage of my career where I want to enjoy my rallying. Obviously I want to compete in the European Rally Championship and WRC but I want to do the stuff I enjoy and this is a pretty iconic rally in terms of its destination. It has a very different culture and enthusiasm here and I loved it. I'd love to come back again."

It's not just those who made the podium at Rally Barbados who want to return next year

It's not just those who made the podium at Rally Barbados who want to return next year

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