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Four-time Australian Rally Champion, Neal Bates, will make his International Classic Rally of Otago debut in April, when he goes up against two-time World Rally Champion, Miki Biasion.

The Toyota stalwart will bring his 1980 Toyota Celica RA40 to New Zealand after convincingly winning the classic component of this year’s Australian Rally Championship.

Bates, who won his national titles driving Toyota Celicas and Corollas, is best remembered for his enthralling battles with New Zealander, Possum Bourne, in the late 90s and early 2000s. While Bourne was at his brilliant best in a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car, Bates was behind the wheel of an ex-Toyota Team Europe Corolla WRC and took it right up to the Kiwi.

Neal Bates and Coral Taylor will contest the 2013 Otago Rally.Over 10 years on, the Canberra driver is eagerly anticipating his first entry into the Classic Rally of Otago.

“It’s an event that I’ve looked at for a few years and thought that I’d love to do it, so I’m really looking forward to it,” Bates said.

“One of the exciting things for me will be competing against Miki Biasion (Porsche 911), but also the challenge of trying to see if something other than an Escort BDA can be up at the front.

“It would be nice to see a different type of car up at the pointy end, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t be competitive.

“It will be a tough assignment, and until we get over there we won’t know, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Bates will be partnered by his usual co-driver, Coral Taylor, and will freight his Celica to New Zealand after the first round of the Australian Championship, in Canberra, in early March.

The Celica is fitted with a fully worked Toyota twin-cam 2.0-litre in-line four mated to an Australian-made Hollinger five-speed h-pattern 'dog' gearbox.

“My biggest concern is the one-pass reconnaissance which will make it difficult to learn the stages quickly,” Bates added, “but Coral and I are an experienced combination and hopefully that won’t cause too many problems.

“Unfortunately the event clashes with the Western Australian round of the ARC, but we’re committed to doing the Otago Rally and giving it our best shot.”

Neal Bates in action in the 2012 Rally of Queensland.While this will be Bates’ first visit to the Rally of Otago, it’s not the first time he’s competed in New Zealand. He contested NZ’s round of the World Rally Championship back in 1997, and instantly fell in love with the country’s unique cambered roads.

His entry into the Classic Rally of Otago follows on from other former Australian Rally Champions, including Ross Dunkerton, Greg Carr and Geoff Portman, who have competed in the popular event.

“We are delighted to have Neal and Coral compete in Otago,” Clerk of Course, Norman Oakley, said.

“Together with Miki Biasion, they will provide a real challenge to the Kiwi competitors who have tended to dominate the event in the past.

“The field is shaping up to be of extremely high quality and truly international in

“For many Kiwis, Neal and Coral represent in many ways the pinnacle of Australian rallying, and to have them compete here means more to us than 'just' the addition of a top flight competitor.”

Next year’s Rally of Otago will also be the first round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, and the 20th consecutive year that the Otago Sports Car Club has hosted a round of the NZRC, a feat that even Rally New Zealand can’t claim.

Details on the format and route for the rally will be announced in the coming weeks.
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