Battle for Rally of Melbourne honours
Next weekend’s NGK Rally of Melbourne promises to be a corker of an event and one worth making the effort to attend, despite this year’s title almost in the bag for Simon and Sue Evans. Naturally all eyes will be on the battle between team leader, Neal Bates, and the live-wire Australian Rally Championship leader, Simon Evans who only needs to finish better than eighteenth on both days to secure the title.
Not that the Evans’ will just be cruising around for a lowly place. Far from it. Team orders won’t come into play even though Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor have a mathematical chance of wresting the title from Evans. Both crews, Bates and Taylor in their hot little Corolla S2000, and Evans in the more familiar Group N (P) Corolla, will be flat out from the time that the flag drops on Saturday morning’s first special stage. On current performance Simon and Sue Evans, last year’s ARC champions who secured their 2006 title at this event last year, should prove to be very hard to beat. The stages in the picturesque Yarra Valley, north east of Melbourne, are familiar stages that Evans has driven many times, and despite the fact that there have been many stages changed this year, Evans, the Pakenham concretor, will quickly show his knowledge of the area.
But what sort of advantage will Evans have over team boss Bates? The Yarra Valley stages should suit Evans’ Corolla better, given the steep and tight forest roads that will be used. Without the advantage of a turbocharger, the S2000 Corolla will lack grunt out of corners compared to the Group N car, but Bates’ fearless driving will make up for any lack of power. It should be a battle to be watched closely.
However, the red and white Corollas won’t have it all their own way, even though the next most likely contender for an outright win, Steve Glenney, has not entered for this rally. Michael Guest’s noisy Ford Fiesta has shown more promise of late but he’ll face stiff opposition from young Brendan Reeves, driving the Les Walkden-prepared Subaru Impreza, and local Spencer Lowndes, who has been dragged out of retirement to drive his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Local knowledge will give these two crews a decided advantage, putting them in a position where they could be podium placegetters.
Also in with a shot will be Queenslander Stewart Reid, driving an ex-Toyota Rally Team Corolla Sportivo, and who has drawn sixth starting position. Close to 50 entries have been received – the event is also the final round of the Victorian Rally Championship.