Toyota’s Neal Bates has taken a convincing victory in Heat 1 of the Australian Rally Championship round at the Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge.

Driving a Toyota TRD Corolla S2000, Bates and co-driver, Coral Taylor, led from the first stage of the day to further extend their lead in this year’s ARC.

Privateer, Spencer Lowndes, finished the day second in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, with reigning Australian Champion, Simon Evans, in third place in the second factory Corolla.

Bates has the most tarmac experience of all the ARC regulars, and used that knowledge to good use. In conditions that were tricky, he made the best of the varying conditions to win the day by 35.1 seconds.

“It was a great day for us – nearly everything worked really well,” Bates said. “We had dry tyres when we probably should have been on medium compounds on the first group of stages, but fortunately it didn’t effect our result.

“Importantly for a new event in the championship, the organisation today was first class and everything ran according to plan.”

Lowndes, who currently sits fourth in the championship, had the measure of Evans throughout the day, despite not being confident leading into the event.

“We thought we’d struggle on the tarmac, but we’ve had a really good day and second is a great result. We’ve certainly been surprised with our speed,” Lowndes said.

“I think the experience we got driving a Mini in Targa Tasmania a couple of years ago has really helped. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Evans wasn’t anywhere near as jovial and was clearly disappointed and frustrated with his performance.

“I wasn’t happy with the set-up of the car, and we spent the day trying to find a good balance,” Evans said.

“It’s been a day of learning, and probably shows that our driving style is not suited to tarmac rallying all that well,” his co-driving wife, Sue, explained. “I’m not being cocky, but it’s a long time since we’ve been this far from the lead in an ARC round.”

Former go-kart driver, Brenton Kaitler, took fourth place in his newly built Mitsubishi Lancer Evo XI after some impressive stage times. He finished 12 seconds clear of the Group N (P) Toyota Corolla of Glen Raymond.

In his team’s home event, Michael Guest was hoping to push for a podium finish in his Subaru Impreza WRX, but luck wasn’t on his side.

“We lost first and second gear in the first Hellyer Gorge stage this morning,” Guest said. “It’s been a really frustrating day, but tomorrow’s another Heat and we’ll be pushing hard from the outset.”

It was a similar story of heartache for local driver Craig Brooks. Sitting as high as sixth mid-way through the day, Brooks’ Subaru blew an oil line and caught fire. Fortunately he was able to extinguish and the flames and continue, but he finished the day in tenth place.

Emerging rally driver, Molly Taylor, once again set some impressive times, taking seventh place. The 20-year old gradually got used to the changing conditions, and overcame an intercom failure in her car on the final stage of the day.

The Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge continues tomorrow morning with Heat 2, starting at 7.30am. Crews face a further five stages and 88 competitive kilometres, before the podium finish back at Burnie’s West Park tomorrow afternoon.

Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge – Heat 1

Results – ARC

1.  Bates/C Taylor, Toyota TRD Corolla S2000, 46 minutes 14.5 seconds
2.  Lowndes/C Randell, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +35.1 secs
3.  Evans/S Evans, Toyota TRD Corolla S2000, +56.7 secs
4.  Kaitler/J Allen, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, +1:36.0
5. G Raymond/M Raymond, Toyota Corolla Sportivo, +1:48.3
6. D Dunlop/J Dunlop, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7, +2;50.8
7. M Taylor/S Stevens, Mitsubishi Mirage RS, +7:00.8
8. B Cullen/M Cullen, Toyota Levin, +8:42.4
9. M Butcher/L Read White, Subaru Impreza WRX, +20:04.0

Photo: Toyota

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