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Last weekend’s NGK Rally of Melbourne was a fitting finale to the NEC Australian Rally Championship, despite a disappointing entry list.

With perfect weather, smooth organization and a fight for podium positions from the emerging Pirtek Ford Rally Team, the Yarra Valley-based two day event ticked almost all of the boxes to make it a favourite with both the competitors and spectators alike.

HOME TOWN HEROES

Of course the popular home town victory for crowd favourites, Simon and Sue Evans, helped to inject some excitement, even though the Evans’ have never looked like being headed in any of the Championship’s 12 heats. Their masterful drive through the rough and rocky stages in the Yarra Ranges, north east of Melbourne, saw them open a lead early in the event which was never to be headed until they crossed the finish line at the Healesville sportsground on Sunday afternoon.

Yet they did not have the event all their own way, with team boss Neal Bates pushing hard for victory, both Toyotas trying to stay ahead of a much-improved Ford Fiesta of Michael Guest and a surprisingly competitive Spencer Lowndes (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9).

The talk at the event was of the competitiveness of the Pirtek Fiestas which have come a long way in both speed and reliability since the first round of the ARC in Western Australia earlier this year. Several fastest stage times early on Day 2 showed that Guest is finally coming to grips with the sweet-sounding Ford. Day 2’s results could have been much different had a slow-starting Evans not decided to up the ante by mid-morning, setting the fastest times on each of the following stages.

The second Fiesta, driven by Darren Windus, again had a miserable weekend, being retired with engine maladies after the West Australian showed the car’s potential by setting some blistering stage times on the opening day.

DISTANT MEMORIES

But Simon and Sue Evans, now firmly entrenched as the pace-setters, were simply in a class of their own, seemingly doing it easily at the front of the field. Simon Evans has developed a style that is fast and controlled, a far cry from when he contested the Rally of Melbourne’s predecessor, the Healesville Stages, in which he started his serious rally career some years ago in a Nissan Pulsar GTiR, driven with a fearless attitude.

Evans’ commitment in that event was frightening to watch and a far cry from the smooth, refined driver we see today. Now with consecutive Australian Championships under their belts, the Evans’ can look forward to being on Toyota’s recruitment list for 2008, presumably in a Corolla S2000, which will put the crew on a level footing with the Pirtek Fiestas and the S2000 of team boss, Neal Bates.

A HAT-TRICK IN 2008?

However the 2008 season will not be as cut and dried as it was this year. Spencer Lowndes has shown he has the speed to beat Bates S2000 Corolla and, on a good day, Guest’s S2000 Fiesta, so it will remain to be seen if Evans can coax that little extra out of his non-turbocharged Corolla and thus stay in touch with the Group N turbo cars.

It might not be so easy for Evans to take command of each round of the 2008 ARC, yet it will be no less exciting. Certainly it will be a fight to be watched with interest.

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