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Neal Bates will test Toyota’s new Super 2000 Corolla for two days later this week as the team ramps up its preparations for the first round of the Australian Rally Championship.

After an initial test of the car at the Wakefield Park race circuit, near Goulburn, in December, Bates and team-mate Simon Evans drove the car in the forests around Canberra last month, with the three-time Australian Champion coming away “very excited” from the test.

Toyota will run last year’s Group N (P) Corolla with Evans at the wheel this year, while Bates will drive the Super 2000 car.

It was initially unknown outside the Toyota team whether Bates, or Evans, the 2007 Australian Rally Champion, would drive the car, but Bates says that Evans was always going to drive his 2006 car for at least the first half of 2007.

“The S2000 car is still an unknown quantity, so in order to give Simon the best chance of defending his title, we’ll put him in the Group N (P) car,” Bates told RallySport Magazine from his Canberra workshop today.

Bates said that when they tested last month, the S2000 car was at about 95% of where they wanted it to be for the first round of the championship in Queensland.

“We’ll run the car in its current specification for the first couple of events and sort out any reliability issues if and when they arise, but I’m pretty confident we have a good base to work with.”

He said the car was comparable on the timesheets with the title-winning car from last year, but that he wasn’t too concerned about times achieved in testing at this stage of the season.

“For sure the car was as quick in the test as the Group N (P) car, but I’m not giving too much thought to testing times because they were achieved on roads that we know well, and where we know what gear to be in and what corner speeds we can achieve on any given piece of road,” Bates added.

“When we get to the first event in Queensland all that will change because we will be on roads that are unfamiliar to us, apart from the information we have picked up on the pre-event recce.”

Bates is unsure whether the Queensland roads will suit the S2000 car more than the Group N (P), simply because of the variations in the car specifications and the stages to be used.

“The (S2000) car will undoubtedly be slower out of the corners because it doesn’t have a turbocharger, but it has better grip, is lighter and is a lot better under brakes, so it will be interesting to compare the cars on the first event,” he said.

Evans will have a chance to test his car for the early part of 2007 before Rally Queensland, but admits that it will be in the same specification as when it finished the Rally of Melbourne last October. However, he’s keen for the season to start and isn’t worrying about whether he’s in the new or the old car.

“I’m really looking forward to Queensland,” he said today. “It’s my favourite event and I can’t wait to get up there and begin the defence of my Australian title.”

Asked if team-mate Bates was going to be his biggest threat, Evans wasn’t able to give a concrete answer.

“I guess Neal may be my biggest challenger, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t given any thought to who my rivals are going to be. I’m just concentrating on being ready for round one and giving myself the best opportunity to retain the title.”

Bates’ Super 2000 Corolla will appear in last year’s Corolla body shape for the first few events, before the new shape Corolla makes its debut at the Rally of Canberra in June.

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