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Round two of the 2008 Australian Rally Championship has got underway in the forests around Canberra today, with crews taking part in the official Rally of Canberra Shakedown.

Toyota Racing Development’s Neal Bates has continued where he left off from last month’s Quit Forest Rally, setting the fastest time, just ahead of his TRD team mate Simon Evans and Japanese Wholesale Spares' Darren Windus.

“I’m not getting to ahead of myself, it’s going to be a long, tough rally, but I couldn’t be happier with the set up of the S2000 at the moment,” said Bates. “I’m definitely comfortable with where we are, the car is nice to drive and it is doing everything I ask so bring on the forest stages.”

Simon Evans was only one second behind Bates and said it was great to get some more time behind the wheel of his new Super 2000 Corolla.

“We have made a few improvements to the set up since WA, and I’m happier with the car this rally which is a good start,” said Evans. “The most important thing is I’ve had some more time in the car. Sue (co-driver Sue Evans) and I are still getting used to the S2000 so time is the most important factor at this stage.”

After a disappointing start to the season, Darren Windus’ crew completed a full rebuild in the hope he can get rid of the mechanical difficulties that have thwarted his best efforts over the past year.

“We have worked hard over the last month to make sure the car is mechanically strong so that is going to make a real difference,” said Windus.  “I firmly believe a podium finish is a very realistic possibility this round and that is what we’re aiming for, there’s no more time for excuses.”

“The roads are in great condition, probably the best Canberra roads I’ve ever seen so I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.”

Today’s shakedown marked the debut of the S2000 VW Polo and a return to competition for driver Marius Swart who last competed in the South African Rally Championship in 2003.

“The car is unbelievable. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it fits like a glove,” said Swart.  “It feels fantastic and I can’t wait for the real competition to get underway.  We don’t have any high expectations - it’s been a long time between rallies for me and the first time in the new car, but I’m really excited, can’t wait!”

Top Ten Shakedown Times

1. Neal Bates (Toyota Racing Development) 2:01

2. Simon Evans (Toyota Racing Development) 2:02

3. Darren Windus (Japanese Wholesale Spares) 2:05

4. Glen Raymond (Raymond Partners Accountants) 2:06

5. Spencer Lowndes (Access Hardware) 2:07

=6. Brenton Kaitler (KME RallyeSport) 2:08

=6. Steven Shepheard (GSA Motorsport) 2:08

=8. Justin Dowel (Activ Rallysport) 2:09

=8 . Brett Kipling (Kipling’s Bakery Point Wakefield) 2:09

=10. Dennis Dunlop (Dennis Dunlop) 2:16

=10. Marius Swart (oz2000 Rallyesport) 2:16

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