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Defending champions Neal Bates and Coral Taylor have regained the lead in the Australian Rally Championship after winning Heat 2 and finishing third overall in Rally WA near Busselton south of Perth.
The four-time title winners bounced back from a broken steering rack that left them temporarily out of action after Saturday morning’s first stage, claiming a solid victory in the second heat ahead of a quality field of challengers.
Despite missing four of the heat’s 10 stages while their Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM) service crew repaired the S2000 Corolla, Bates and Taylor rebounded in the strongest possible way, winning four of the six runs they contested to secure vital championship points.
Bates and Taylor then came out firing during Sunday’s Heat 2, beating a field including former team-mates Simon and Sue Evans, local ace Dean Herridge and young stars Eli Evans and brother-team Glen and Matt Raymond.
Bates and Taylor claimed four of the day’s 10 stages to earn a 19.7-second victory from the Evans duo and the Raymonds.
By claiming seven of the 20 stages on offer, Bates and Taylor were awarded a bonus point that sees them open a 13-point lead to the Evans pairing.
Rally WA also proved a significant event for NBM-built Corollas. As well as Bates and Taylor regaining their outright lead, local driver Darren Windus leased the team’s second S2000 Corolla with success, and the Raymond brothers enjoyed their best result using an older model ex-NBM Corolla.
The Raymonds were the breakout crew in WA and notched a series of firsts. Not only did they secure their maiden ARC stage and heat wins, but the Victorian brothers piloted their ex-NBM Corolla Group N (P) to an emotional outright victory.
Former factory driver Windus claimed third in Heat 1 and was leading Heat 2 until he ran wide and made contact with a tree stump. Although the accident forced him out of the event, he won three stages and is considering running the NBM-prepared car in the remaining three rallies.
Neal Bates – Car #1:
“To come away from this weekend with a heat win and the overall championship lead is a great result given the circumstances. Apart from the oppressive heat, the fact we recovered so strongly after yesterday morning’s problem was a real testament to the crew. We have never had a broken steering rack in one of these cars, so we can’t complain too much. We now have less than a month to get ready for Queensland and we are still in discussion with a number of commercial partners, so hopefully we will have a major sponsor in place by then. Darren Windus put in a superb effort in a car he had no prior experience in, so he must be commended for his efforts. I’d also like to congratulate Glen, Matt and the Raymond family on their first outright win. Before the weekend Glen had never even won a stage, so it was a great effort.”

Photo: Joel Strickland

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