The Australian Rally Championship’s leading drivers have thrown their full support behind the calendar’s newest event, the Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge.

The inclusion of the October 4 and 5 event will not only see the ARC return to Tasmanian for the first time since 2006, but it will be the first major tarmac round in the championship’s prestigious 41 year history.

National champion for the past two years, Toyota factory driver, Simon Evans, says he’s looking forward to putting his Super 2000 Corolla through its paces on a different surface.

“I’ve been saying for five years that we need a tarmac event in the championship, so it’s great to finally have one. Now all we need is a snow event and we’ll have everything covered!” he said.

“Scott (Spedding) has proven himself to be a very good director and event organiser, so I’m sure the event will be a great addition to the ARC.”

Neal Bates, who currently leads this year’s ARC after three rounds, backed up the comments made by his team-mate.

“It’s very good for the ARC. We’ve spoken about adding a tarmac event to the championship for 10 years, and I’m glad that it’s finally happened. While it’s not good to lose an event like the Rally of Melbourne, the tarmac event will be a welcome addition,” Bates said.

“If you’re going to have a tarmac event in the ARC, then Tasmania’s the place to have it. The organisers are incredibly good, and the rally couldn’t be in better hands.”

The country’s leading privateers are also champing at the bit to get their cars to the Burnie-based rally for what promises to be a marquee event in the championship.

Eli Evans, the younger brother of Toyota driver Simon Evans, found it hard to contain his enthusiasm.

“I’m bloody excited! I think it is the best opportunity for rallying, as a whole, as it will bring the best tarmac and gravel rally drivers together in the one event. You’ll have a huge variety of cars – everything from Super 2000s to Lamborghinis and Porsches – and I think it will be a huge event with over 100 competitors.

“I’ve done Rally Tasmania twice, and the Mt Buller Sprint on tarmac, as I expected that a tarmac rally would be included in the ARC at some stage. We’ve done our homework and don’t expect the new surface to cause us any problems,” he said.

Similarly, fellow privateers Spencer Lowndes (Mitsubishi Lancer) and Darren Windus (Ford Fiesta) are eagerly awaiting the all-new event.

“I think it’s great,” Lowndes said. “I think the concept is great and it will be a really good addition to the championship. It will be especially good for the young drivers to get some tarmac experience, particularly if they have plans of going to Europe to compete.

“With a variety of different events, it should enable the championship to generate more media coverage, and will offer something different for TV viewers as well.

“I did Targa Tasmania in a Mini a couple of years ago, and driving on tarmac was actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be.”

“It’ll be awesome – I can’t wait,” Windus added. “It adds another event to the championship that is different, and it will mix things up a bit. A lot of us have been after a tarmac round for years, so it’s great news.”

With the late inclusion of the event on the calendar - after last week’s cancellation of the long-standing Rally of Melbourne – drivers are looking for the vehicle regulations to be clarified to ensure they have time to prepare their cars for the upcoming event.

While the move to tarmac means work for all to find the ideal set-up for their cars, they agree that it’s the excitement of a new event and a new surface that outweighs the set-up issues they may face.

“We’ll need to do a tarmac set-up for the S2000 Corolla, but I don’t think that will be overly difficult. We actually already have a tarmac set-up for the Group N (P) car, although we never actually did a full tarmac rally in it,” Bates added.

“We’ll need to do some tarmac testing on a race track before we go to the event, but having said that, there’s no reason you can’t test suspension settings on the open road, while obeying all the road rules and speed limits,” Lowndes, a former factory driver for Mitsubishi, said.

Simon Evans agreed that while the surface – at ARC level – will be new to everyone, once the stages start it will be every man for himself and everyone should find themselves on an even footing.

“I quite enjoy driving on tarmac, even though in the past, in ARC rounds, it’s always been on Super Special stages where I’ve been putting on a show for the crowd. But once we get into a real tarmac rally situation, it will be neat and tidy and as fast as possible,” he said.

“The Super 2000 car should be competitive, because at the end of the day it’s a racing car. We might be a little disadvantaged against the Group N cars because of their higher top speed, but these things tend to even themselves out. Some events suit the S2000 cars more, some suit the Group N cars more.”

With a similar, aggressive, driving style to his elder brother, Eli Evans agreed that he’d have to temper his natural enthusiasm.

“You certainly need to have a different driving style on tarmac. You need to be more patient and the grip levels are totally different than on gravel, but I can’t wait.

“Already I’m just looking forward to getting the next round of the ARC in South Australia out of the way, and heading to Burnie for the new Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge,” he said.

Event organisers are currently working through the regulations for the event, and these should be released within the next two weeks.
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