Former UK National Rally Champion Paul Bird will face the largest field of World Rally Cars ever assembled in the Caribbean when he returns to the region to defend his title in Sol Rally Barbados 2013 (June 1/2). Thirteen cars, up from the previous record of 11, are entered in the WRC classes on the provisional entry list of 98 crews, revealed by the Barbados Rally Club (BRC) during a media conference today (Monday).

Last weekend (May 10/11), Bird took the lead of the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship in the UK with his third victory on the closed-road tarmac Manx National Rally, ideal preparation for his trip to the Caribbean. His Frank Bird Poultry/Rapid Solicitors/Fuchs Titan/MinxFlix Ford Focus WRC08 will arrive in the cargo hold of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 a few days before Scotiabank King of the Hill (May 26); Bird will be hoping to win both events, as he did last year, when he described the experience as "the hardest and probably the best I've ever driven since I started rallying."

In a lenghty and entertaining Q & A session in the Peninsula Suite of the island's Hilton Hotel, Sol Rally Barbados Chairman Barry Gale and the Chairman and PRO of the BRC, Mark Hamilton and Neil Barnard respectively, dealt with wide-ranging issues revolving around the Club's premier event raised by the assembled media.

All three emphasised the paramount importance of safety to all stakeholders involved in the running of Sol RB13, with a number of new initiatives introduced this year to further enhance control of spectator areas during the event. Barnard said: "In setting the route, our primary objectives were a compact and safe route, but also to inject something new into both days."

There are 22 special stages, 11 each day. While some venues are familiar, others are less so, a major overhaul of the route creating what promises to be a more level playing field for local and overseas competitors. Hamilton said: "Taking into account particularly the Spring Vale stage on Saturday, competitors will have to be 'on it' from the start."

There are 62 International drivers or co-drivers entered, one short of last year's record number, 22 of whom are new to the event. The 'Rally to Barbados' promotional campaign run in association with the Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) has again proved it's worth, with the largest influx of newcomers being from Ireland, although three of the six first-time drivers are in fact expat Irish based in New York.

Gale concluded: "The support of the media is vital, we wouldn't be sitting here without you all in the room, and there is enormous international exposure, too. But I want to finish by mentioning our volunteers (that would be everyone who organises, co-ordinates, marshals or otherwise assists with the event, and their families, without whose support they could not help) . . . so I take my hat off to all of them, and thank them sincerely."

Title sponsor since 2008, the region's largest independent oil company Sol was represented today by Barbados Country Manager, Ezra Prescod, who said: "Sol has been the proud title sponsor of Sol Rally Barbados now for six years . . . and we are happy to commit to another three years as lead sponsor of this event. Sol Rally Barbados has grown into one of the most anticipated events on the region's sporting calendar and, as the leading regional petroleum company, we are happy to join with the Barbados Rally Club to bring this electrifying event to our customers and motor sport fans across the region once again."

Sol is also sponsoring 12-time winner of the island's premier event Roger 'The Sheriff' Skeete's Subaru Impreza WRC S12 for a second season and has welcomed Neil Armstrong to the team, driving the rebranded Suzuki SX4 WRC. Both can be expected to be at the sharp end of the battle for supremacy, along with RB03 and '07 winner Paul 'Surfer' Bourne (Focus WRC07), who won the first three events of the local season.

In addition to Bird, the overseas entry includes Jamaica's Jeff Panton (Focus WRC06), the first winner from the wider Caribbean, in 1998, and third last year, former UK National Champions Steve Perez (Focus WRC07) and Roger Duckworth (Impreza WRC S6), plus regular visitor Rob Swann in his UK-spec B13 Impreza, who finished fourth, sixth and seventh respectively in Sol RB12.

Sol Rally Barbados 2013 (June 1/2) and Scotiabank King of the Hill (May 26) are organised and promoted by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsors the Sol Group and Scotiabank. Marketing partners are Simpson Motors, LIME, Automotive Art, Banks and Karcher; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Tourism Development Corporation, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line and Virgin Atlantic Airways; associate sponsors are Chefette, Field Insurance, Glacial Pure, Little Switzerland, Redline Fuels, Stoute's Car Rental and West Indies Rum Distillery.