Bates sneaks back

Top driver Neal Bates can hardly be­lieve his Rally Aus­tralia luck, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

Asolid show­room run has put the spark into a Toy­ota Corolla come­back at Repco Rally Aus­tralia. Toy­ota Aus­tralia with­drew from the na­tional rally cham­pi­onship at the start of the year but has de­cided on a one-off re­turn to the world cham­pi­onship with its four­time Aus­tralian cham­pi­ons, Neal Bates and Coral Tay­lor.

Bates is racing to have his Corolla S2000 for­est racer ready in time for the event, from Septem­ber 3-6 on the far north coast of NSW, af­ter dis­miss­ing any chance of tak­ing part.

‘‘I’m very sur­prised. I thought we def­i­nitely wouldn’t be do­ing it,’’ Bates says.

‘‘We missed out on de­fend­ing our Aus­tralian cham­pi­onship at the fi­nal round in Ade­laide and I thought that was it for the year. And maybe for my ca­reer at the top level.

‘‘Then I got a phone call and we’re away. It’s great. We’re get­ting the whole team back to­gether and we’re aim­ing to be the first Aus­tralians home in Rally Aus­tralia.’’

The call came from Toy­ota Aus­tralia but the Bates’ ef­fort in Repco Rally Aus­tralia is also backed by Cars­ and his long-term back­ers, in­clud­ing Cal­tex Havo­line and Miche­lin.

‘‘This is a one-off and largely a thankyou to Neal and his team for their loy­alty and suc­cess. We’re proud of what he has been able to achieve in Toy­ota cars over the past 20 years,’’ Toy­ota’s motorsport man­ager, Wayne Gabriel, says.

‘‘It shows our pride. And Corolla sales are go­ing well, with Neal racing the fastest Corolla in the coun­try and pos­si­bly the world. This is a chance for Neal to show­case his tal­ents in the lo­cal leg of the world cham­pi­onship.’’

Bates has been given a wild­card en­try into Rally Aus­tralia that will see him com­pet­ing against the regulars of the Pro­duc­tion World Rally Cham­pi­onship, who drive a range of Mit­subishi Lancer Evo and Subaru WRX cars.

He will also have a stiff bench­mark in Cody Crocker, a for­mer Aus­tralian cham­pion who now dom­i­nates the Asia-Pa­cific cham­pi­onship for Subaru.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously the ob­jec­tive is to do as well in PWRC as we pos­si­bil­ity can. So that means to win,’’ Bates says.

‘‘Cody is a good bench­mark. We both had trou­bles in our only match-up this year, but over the two days of Rally Queens­land we beat him by four sec­onds.’’

Bates and the rest of the Aus­tralian con­tin­gent are yet to get their start­ing po­si­tions, but he will carry No. 60 for the event.

At the front of the field, five­time world cham­pion Se­bas­tian Loeb is car one but Ford’s front man Mikko Hir­vo­nen will lead the field away as the cur­rent world cham­pi­onship points leader.

Guided by us: the Toy­ota Corolla Bates will drive in Rally Aus­tralia next month.

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