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Neal Bates has come away from the first test of Toyota’s new Super 2000 car overjoyed with the car’s potential.

The Toyota team tested the prototype Corolla over two days last week, both on tarmac and gravel, and according to Bates, the team are over the moon.

RallySport Magazine's Peter Whitten chatted with Bates today and found out more details about the first test of a Super 2000 car on Australian soil.

RSM: Where did the tests take place?
Neal Bates: We had it at Wakefield Park on tarmac on Monday, and then in the forests in Canberra on Wednesday.

First time out, how did the times compare to the current Group N (P) Corolla?
Look, it was very, very close to the Group N (P) car at Wakefield, and it was a little bit off the pace on the gravel, but seeing that was the first test we’re absolutely over the moon with it.

Who drove the car at the test?
It was just me. Simon (Evans) was invited to the test, but couldn’t make it.

You’ve been building the car for around six months. How easy has the job been?
We’ve really only been working on the car part time because we’ve had our ARC program to look after and we were just fitting stuff in when we could, but there’s probably a reasonable amount of work in building them. Probably the most exciting part about it though is that it sounds incredibly good. All the guys in the team were really excited listening to it – and they don’t get excited very easily, so that’s a real positive.

What’s it like from the inside of the car?
It’s great. It’s very exciting to drive and I think they’ll be very, very good for Australian rallying.

Super 2000 cars are four-wheel drive, but have non-turbocharged engines. What are the other main differences between your current car and the new S2000 Corolla?
It’s a completely different engine (out of the Altessa – the 3SGE engine) and you’ve got to keep it between 6500 rpm and 8500 rpm which, when you’re testing, you can manage, but that will be the art of driving them in the forest – keeping them on the boil. They’re incredibly nimble, they’re a couple of hundred kilos lighter than the current car, they stop, and handle and change direction incredibly well, so it’s all looking very encouraging.

You’ve said in the past that the Group N (P) car has great brakes. Is the new car even better?

Where does that 200kg of weight loss come from?
Everything in the cars are lighter. You don’t have turbos, water injection and spray bars, etc. The cross members are lighter, all the suspension components are lighter, the transmission seems lighter – everything in the cars is lighter.

The gearbox is a control part in Super 2000 cars, made by Sadef in France. How did you find it to use?
The gearbox seemed really good. There’s various ratios that you can choose to install in the box, but the one we chose for this car seems as though it will be okay for the job.

Is there any interchangeability between the current Group N (P) car and the new Super 2000 car?
No, unfortunately there’s not much the same.

Having driven the car, are your first impressions that it will be faster in some places and slower in others than the 2006 car?
In braking and handling it probably seems faster, but obviously pulling out of corners it’s not as good because you don’t have a turbo. But when it’s wound up it seems very good.

Is it going to require a different driving style?
I think for sure, yes. Particularly how you drive the cars into and out of corners.

Coming away from that first test, what do you think you need to work on most to make the car go faster?
I don’t think I could pinpoint anything in particular. We’ve just got to try a few different things and see what works and what doesn’t work. I couldn’t come away from the test and say there was anything glaringly obvious that needed changing, but we do need to make some changes and see what makes it tick.

What is the plan for 2007? Full Super 2000, or a 50/50 split?
I think to start with we’ll run one of each car, but at this stage we haven’t decided who’ll drive what car at the start of the year.

How closely did you follow the Rally GB results and Alister McRae’s performance in the Super 2000 Corolla?
Quite closely, of course, and he did well. He started off slowly and then improved during the event.

How much input from that car is in your car?
None. We haven’t spoken to RED who run that car, but we went to South Africa this year and spoke to them about their car. I’m sure there’s some similarities and we’ve done some things differently.

So will your car be homologated separately from theirs?
Yes, we’re going to have regional homologation here, which basically means that our car will be able to run anywhere in the Asia Pacific region, including the WRC rounds.

The test car is the current shape Corolla, but you’ll build the new shape Corolla for 2007. When will you get your hands on those bodyshells?
Hopefully some time in the middle of January, then we can get started. There’s a lot of stuff to be done and it depends how the build program goes, but the first ARC round is in Queensland in March and we’d obviously love to have an S2000 car at the start there.

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