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Defending Australian Rally Champions Neal Bates and Coral Taylor have confirmed they will pit themselves against the region’s best crews early next month when they contest Rally Queensland, the fourth round of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC).

The current championship leaders, who regained top-spot after a fighting recovery drive to third at the last round in Western Australia, will as usual be running their championship-winning Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM) Corolla S2000.

Although they will contest the ARC component of the dual-classification event – which is also hosting a round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) – Bates believes he and Taylor will be able to match it with the APRC’s leading crews.

“Winning last year’s Rally Queensland was a big step towards securing the championship, so both Coral and I are looking forward to returning to the forests around Imbil for this year’s event,” Bates said.

“Of course this year we will be competing on the same roads as the leading APRC teams and even though they can’t take points away from us, it will be an extra challenge and I look forward to hopefully beating their times.

“Queensland is arguably the toughest event on the calendar. The roads tend to be fast but very narrow with a lot of trees very close to the road, so concentration is a must.”

NBM’s second Corolla S2000 has been repaired and is ready for action following an accident by guest driver Darren Windus during his successful return to the ARC at the last event in WA.

The West-Australian demonstrated he has lost none of his speed despite almost a year away from the sport and although he is yet to confirm his participation in Queensland, team boss Bates said Windus’ inclusion would be a boost to his title-winning team.

Rally Queensland, which will be hosting the Australian round of the APRC for the first time, will see the resumption of what has been an enthralling battle across the season’s opening three rounds.

Four-time champion Bates claimed victory at the season-opening round in Tasmania, before backing up with second at his home event in Canberra and a fighting third place in WA after recovering from a technical issue early in Heat 1.

Second in the championship are Bates and Taylor’s former team-mates Simon and Sue Evans, who are ahead of emerging stars Glen and Matt Raymond who claimed their maiden ARC victory at the last round driving their Bates-built Corolla Group N (P).

Eli Evans, Dean Herridge and Justin Dowel have also been regularly challenging the front-running trio and will no doubt add to the intensity of the battle in Queensland.

The 41st edition of Rally Queensland runs from 8-10 May. It is based at Imbil on the Sunshine Coast about one hour’s drive north of Brisbane.

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