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Top teams from the prestigious Australian Rally Championship (ARC) have begun to arrive in South Australia ahead of this weekend’s championship-deciding Sprint Auto Parts Rally SA.

Nearly 25 crews from around Australia will join more than 30 crews from the South Australian Rally Championship in competition across this weekend, with action beginning in the Mt. Crawford Forests on Friday, July 31 with the Pedders No Bull Shootout.

Last years’ rally featured a titanic battle between then TRD teammates Simon Evans and Neal Bates and more of the same is anticipated in 2009 – though they no longer share the same team.

Evans, the reigning champion and current points leader, now drives for his family-owned Evans Motorsport team driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, whilst Bates’ ex-Works S2000 Toyota Corolla now operates as a private entry under the Neal Bates Motorsport banner.

Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor last week conducted a successful pre-rally test ahead of their trip to South Australia and enter the event confident of securing an amazing fifth Australian Rally Championship.

“We have had a good lead-up to this rally and the car was great in testing,” four-time champion Bates said.

“We have a very strong package, the car is as good as it can be for the rally so now it is up to Coral and I to go out there and do the job. The title is on the line and whoever wins the rally will take it – it’s as simple as that.”

Bates currently trails Evans by just eight points heading into this weekends’ dramatic season finale’.

Meanwhile, Steven Shepheard and John McCarthy have made the long trek from Queensland to tackle the high-speed roads of Rally SA with the pre-event support of Australia’s most recent top hope in the World Rally Championship.

Chris Atkinson, a regular podium finisher last year with the works Subaru WRC team, spent nearly a full day behind the wheel of the teams Oz Tec Suspension Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, fine tuning the cars suspension and overall handling package.

Atkinson also spent time in the passenger seat giving Shepheard some tuition and driving advice.

The results, the driver believes, puts them in an excellent position for this weeks’ Sprint Auto Parts Rally SA.

"Having Chris is in the car at the test has taught me a lot about my driving style and how I attack corners,” Shepheard said.

"Rally SA will be the first time that we have run the car with a dog box combined with left foot braking, which is an area Chris said I should really concentrate on.

"Basically I was going too fast into the corners, braking too late and being too sideways on the exits.

"Back to back on one particular corner, Chris was a second quicker than me, so if I can improve on that, there is a lot of time to be gained.

"The rally is probably the fastest and most flowing on the calendar, so you have to really concentrate and be confident on the fast fifth-gear sections. We have made a lot of changes with the car, and I'm certain in my mind that we have the best possible handling and engine package going into the weekend," said Shepheard.

The Rally kicks off on Friday, July 31st with the inaugural Pedders No Bull shootout to be held in the Mount Crawford Forrest that morning.

Crews will then tackle the first of two Angaston Oval Super-Special stages on the Friday night, an event that last year drew nearly 7500 people over two days to witness the superb rallying action.

Tickets can be pre-purchased online for the Angaston Super Special stages, costing $10 per night or $15 for a two-day pass for Adults. Family passes – for two adults and two children – are available for $20 / night or $30 for both nights.

The two heats of the Sprint Auto Parts Rally SA will then be contested on Saturday and Sunday on the high-speed and challenging roads around the Barossa and Eden Valleys and other regions north of the city.

Action can be followed live on www.sarally.com.au with live vision of the super-special stages and in-car camera vision being updated during the weekend. 
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