A history lesson – Toyota in the ARC
- 18th February 2009, 11:33am
Run by Neal Bates Motorsport out of Canberra by four-time Australian Champion, Neal Bates, the team has earned Toyota three manufacturersâ€™ titles and has claimed six driversâ€™ crowns.
The team grew out of a relationship Toyota forged with Bates following his participation in a unique Star Search program in 1989, run as part of the Australian Touring Car Championship.
Bates was chosen over eight under-25 year-old motorsport aspirants, each of whom raced a works Toyota Corolla in one round of the national series.
He went on to win his class in the Bathurst 1000 that year and this success, coupled with a budding rally career, saw him begin competing in the ARC in 1990 driving a Toyota Celica with Toyota support.
In 1993, Coral Taylor joined the team as co-driver for Bates, beginning what has become one of the longest-running and most successful partnerships in Australian motorsport.
The pair earned success immediately in a Celica, winning three consecutive ARC titles from 1993 to 1995 â€“ becoming the first crew to do so.
Bates and Taylor were at their most dominant in 1995 where they won eight of the nine ARC rounds as well as Targa Tasmania, with their only non-win a ninth place against the worldâ€™s best drivers in Rally Australia.
The teamâ€™s success was also aided by the technical knowledge of chief technician Darryl Bush â€“ a master mechanic who met Bates when the driver was just a 16-year-old apprentice under Bush in a Canberra workshop.
Bates, Bush and Taylor led a successful run at the top of the sport that would see Toyota earn a top-three finish in the championship for 11 successive seasons (1991 to 2001) in a series of Celicas and Corolla World Rally Cars.
Bush became team manager in 2000, a year before Toyota was temporarily forced out of the ARC so it could build a car that met the sportâ€™s new regulations.
Bates and Bush, along with the teamâ€™s technicians undertook the enormous challenge of transforming a road-going Corolla for the new Group N (Prototype) regulations â€“ remarkably completing the work in less than a season.
After a one-off event at the end of 2002, Toyota debuted the Group N (P) in the 2003 season with a two car effort, led again by Bates who was joined in the team by twin brother Rick â€“ also an accomplished rally driver.
The new Corolla steadily developed and the team expanded to three cars in 2004, with team boss Bates joined for the first time by Simon and Sue Evans as well as young up-and-comer Ben Barker.
The Evans husband-and-wife team secured the Group N (P)â€™s maiden win in their first event with Toyota, starting an affinity with the car that would take them to two ARC titles.
Unlucky not to win the ARC title in their first year with Toyota after Simon was injured in a crash, the Evans duo finished third in 2004 and 2005, before their, and the teamâ€™s, breakthrough season in 2006.
Three seasons of toil saw the Group N (P) Corolla develop into the fastest rally car in Australia â€“ and Simon Evans took full advantage to claim his first driversâ€™ title.
Bates and Taylor took a popular victory at the teamâ€™s home event in Canberra and, coupled with two wins for the Evansâ€™, Toyota secured its maiden ARC manufacturersâ€™ crown and a 1-2 in the championship.
Things improved further in 2007 with Simon and Sue becoming the first crew to clean-sweep a season when they won all 12 heats and all six rounds to deliver their second driverâ€™s title and another Toyota 1-2.
The season was also a watershed year for Bates and Taylor as the pair spent the year developing Toyotaâ€™s next generation of rally cars, with the birth and debut of the Super 2000-specification Corolla.
Designed, developed and manufactured in-house by a team again led by Bush, the S2000 Corolla not only helped Toyota to a second manufacturersâ€™ title, but Bates put it on the overall podium in five of the six events.
By 2008, Evans joined Bates in an S2000 Corolla. It was the veteran campaigner who claimed an historic ARC-first when he became the first driver to win a rally in an S2000-spec car with victory in Western Australia.
Bates and Taylor turned back the clock to claim four round wins, including the ARCâ€™s first-ever all-tarmac round in Tasmania, to break a 13-year drought and win their fourth title.
Since Bates and Taylor paired up in 1993, Toyota has claimed 42 outright ARC wins and successfully raced WRC Celicas and Corollas along with locally designed and developed Group N (P) and S2000 Corollas.
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