Bates sneaks back
Top driver Neal Bates can hardly believe his Rally Australia luck, writes PAUL GOVER
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 Carsguide.com.au 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.