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Toyota's Australian Rally Champions Simon Evans and Neal Bates have had a chance to sample racing of a totally different kind - getting behind the wheel of an open-wheeler at Oran Park.

The car was from New Zealand's Toyota Racing Series (TRS) - a one-make wings-and-slicks formula featuring some of New Zealand and Australia's most promising young driving talent.


Open-wheel circuit racing is considered to be at the total opposite end of the motor racing spectrum to what Bates and Evans are used to - so it was always going to be interesting to see how two of the best rally drivers would adapt to the car.

Three-times Australian Rally Champion Neal Bates was first in the cockpit.

Bates has driven in many circuit races but he had never driven an open-wheeler until he ventured out onto Oran Park's south circuit.

The runner-up in last year's NEC ARC looked like a seasoned open-wheel racer as he gradually started approaching the limit and lowering his lap times each lap.

Next was reigning ARC Simon Evans, who in comparison has done no circuit racing whatsoever - much less in an open-wheeler.

A spectacular sideways slide at turn two early had onlookers starting to think he could drive these cars like rally cars - until the ARC leader looped the vehicle around while accelerating out of turn four a couple of laps later.

However, Evans kept it on the racetrack, didn't stall and got back to lowering his lap times - even treating pit lane spectators to one last rally moment as he backed the TRS car into turn one while braking on his last lap.

After just a handful of laps, Neal Bates recorded a best time of 43.6 seconds over the seven-turn circuit. Circuit rookie Evans managed a best time of 44.9 seconds.

These times compared with former British F3 driver Barton Mawer's best time of 42.4 seconds - on his second lap!

"I felt like a bit of a Formula One driver all squashed in there for a little while," laughed Evans.

"Everything is so direct - really quite different to a rally car, which feels a bit like a lounge chair ride in comparison.

"It's not progressive like a rally car - the TRS is just on a knife's edge when you get near the limit of grip. It is such a fine line between getting it right and spinning backwards down the road.

"I had to change my driving style a bit because the steering column prevented me left-foot braking - there was a lot going on for my brain to comprehend."

With knowledge of the Oran Park circuit and a strong history in circuit racing, Neal Bates looked completely at home in his first drive of an open-wheeler.

"I really enjoyed that," he said. "But I'm not sure how I'd go with 20 other cars around me!

"I tried to be pretty cautious as I didn't want to do anything silly when the walls are so close here, but I crept up on it and started going a bit faster each time.

"The car needs incredibly small movements to make it do anything - there's loads and loads of grip, but then it can just snap away in an instant.

"We might have been able to go a bit quicker if we were allowed to strap our co-drivers to the car somehow!"

The TRS car fits into the junior formulae ladder between Formula Fords and Formula Three.

Each driver in the eight-round series has the same Italian-built Tatuus SRL chassis, the same 1800cc Toyota 2ZZ-GE engine (as found in the Corolla Sportivo and the last Celica), and the same Michelin tyres as the driver's competitors. It weighs around 480 kilograms and has a SADEV six-speed sequential gearbox.

TRS has proven a stepping stone to international endeavours for young New Zealand drivers - with alumni involved in A1 Grand Prix, Champ Car Atlantics, Infiniti Pro Series, International Formula Master and Formula Renault Eurocup. 
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