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Three-time Australian rally champion Neal Bates has won the opening round of the 2008 Australian Rally Championship (ARC) following a hard-fought victory in the Quit Forest Rally in Western Australia, becoming the first driver to win an ARC round in an S2000 car.

Toyota Racing Development's Bates overhauled Michael Guest over the final three stages of the event to also claim victory in Heat 2, making up almost 12s on the Subaru driver during the last group of stages.

The overall win was the first for Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor since the opening round of the 2006 season in Canberra and maintains the team's run of consecutive outright victories that now stand at eight.

Team-mates Simon and Sue Evans retired with an engine problem whilst leading the rally on SS17, bringing an end to their run of 14-straight heat wins and marking the first time the team has had a retirement of any kind for more than two seasons.

The reigning champions were disappointed not to have completed the event, but gained a lot of valuable knowledge about how to get the most from their new S2000 Corolla.

Despite recording a DNF, Simon Evans did do enough to claim the event's bonus point for most stage wins.

Privateer Toyota driver Glen Raymond recorded his best ever heat finish by claiming fifth in Heat 2 on his debut outing in his ex-TRD Group N (P) Corolla.

The next round of the ARC is the Capital Rally in Canberra on 10-11 May.

Neal Bates, Car #2 - S2000 Corolla:
"I'm absolutely delighted to be the first person to win in an Australian rally with an S2000 car. We drove very well today, much better than during Heat 1 and had a great fight with Guest. It is extremely satisfying, but I am very disappointed for Simon and Sue, they drove exceptionally well and deserved to win but when they stopped we were very happy to pick up the pieces. We have the best team of people and they deserve all the accolades here, these cars are just fantastic and everyone worked incredibly hard in the off-season and in the months leading up to this event. They produced the car that's done the job - I could not have asked for better."

Simon Evans, Car #1 - S2000 Corolla:
"At the time we retired the car was doing what I wanted it to do so that is positive. It is unfortunate we had the engine problem but we have had such a good run so we can't complain. Neal did a great job and it's good for the team that we picked up the win despite our retirement. I am really focussed on Canberra now and highly-motivated to bounce back there. I can't wait to get into it - I wish it started tomorrow."

Glen Raymond, Car #7 - Group N (P) Corolla
"We had a great result and although the car has taken a battering this weekend it is a testament to how well these Corollas are built that we were able to finish fifth in Heat 2. It is our best-ever heat result and to come on our debut with the car is promising."

Australian Rally Championship
Quit Forest Rally WA
Heat 2 - Final Results:
1) Neal Bates Toyota Corolla S2000
2) Michael Guest Subaru Impreza WRX
3) Eli Evans Subaru Impreza WRX
4) Spencer Lowndes Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
5) Glen Raymond Toyota Corolla Group N (P)
6) Roman Watkins Subaru Impreza WRX

Quit Forest Rally WA
Overall Results
1) Neal Bates Toyota Corolla S2000
2) Eli Evans Subaru Impreza WRX
3) Alex Stone Subaru Impreza WRX
4) Justin Dowel Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
5) Michael Guest Subaru Impreza WRX
6) Simon Evans Toyota Corolla S2000

Australian Rally Championship
Championship Standings
1) Neal Bates Toyota Corolla S2000 - 74 points
2) Eli Evans Subaru Impreza WRX - 52
3) Justin Dowel Mitsubishi Lancer EVO - 48
4) Michael Guest Subaru Impreza WRX - 43
5) Simon Evans Toyota Corolla S2000 - 41
6) Roman Watkins Subaru Impreza WRX - 38
=6) Spencer Lowndes Mitsubishi Lancer EVO - 38
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