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Toyota Racing Development driver Simon Evans celebrated his 34th birthday with a win in the first heat of the coates Rally Queensland; the third round of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship.
It's a pretty good birthday present!" said Evans.
"This is my favourite ARC event. I've never won here in Queensland before and now I'm halfway there."
Evans won most of the day's ten stages and went on to record his fourth consecutive heat win, despite driving with a cracked gearbox for most of the day.
A heavy landing on a cattle grid early this morning created a sizeable crack in the Corolla's gearbox but the Toyota team's patch job, using putty and a soft drink can, held out for the remainder of the day's stages.
"It was still shifting fine, I just kept topping up the gearbox all day," Evans explained.
"I tried not to worry about it and instead just concentrated on maintaining my speed."
It seemed no-one had an answer for the pace of Evans, not even his team mate Neal Bates who wasn't entirely happy with handling of his Corolla and made a suspension change after the day's first group of stages.
Bates was locked in a battle for the runner-up spot with leading WA privateer Dean Herridge for most of the day. At the last service break the margin between the two was less than 2 seconds, but it was Bates who snatched second outright on the final 15-kilometre stage of the day.
"Of course I'm disappointed because (co-driver) Bill and I tried really hard all afternoon'" conceded Herridge.
"We've still got a good points haul for the championship though and I think we have much more in reserve for tomorrow."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart described the day as a 'missed opportunity' after Scott Pedder and co-driver Glen Weston struggled with an oversteer problem in the Lancer Evo 9 that seemed to worsen as the day went on.
Pedder was also hampered by a puncture, and finished the day in fourth outright ahead of local Queensland privateer Stewart Reid.
"Fourth is a substantial result for us, but we're disappointed because our goal here was to win and give ourselves a good shot at the championship," Pedder said.
Weston explained the team's frustration saying "rallying seems to keep coming up with new and interesting ways to mess with your head!"
The crew will use tonight's service to locate and repair the problem, but Pedder won't know if they have been successful until the Evo 9 hits the first stage tomorrow morning.
One of the standout performances of the day came from privateer Kelvin Croker, who drove his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3 to a top five finish in only his first pace-noted event.
Croker was coached by former champion co-driver Dale Moscatt and admitted that the hardest thing about the day was "listening to Dale and then processing his calls in time."
Hard-charger Will Orders also had heads turning after posting stage times faster than the factory teams early this morning, but his run ended prematurely with a broken piston in his Subaru Impreze WRX.
" We really weren't sure how we'd compare with the other teams, so to be posting times in the top 3 was surprising . and then to DNF with an engine failure is heartbreaking, but that's rallying I guess" a dejected Orders said.
The team is confident that Orders will re-start heat two tomorrow.
Tasmanian Simon Jansen finished seventh outright ahead of Queenslanders Glenn Brinkman and Bruce Fullerton.
An exhausted but relieved Michael Guest parked his Ford Focus in the service park tonight, happy with tenth outright.
"I'm pretty happy considering this was always going to be the worst Round in the series for our car with all the tight and twisty uphill stuff," said Guest. "In all my years rallying I don't think I've ever been happier to finish a days rallying."
Heat two of the coates Rally Queensland begins early tomorrow morning with a repeat of today's nine forest stages before the podium presentation in Mooloolaba on Sunday afternoon.
The coates Rally Queensland is the third round of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship.
Provisional Results- Heat One- coates Rally Queensland
S.Evans/ S. Evans (Toyota)                 1:02:41:3
N. Bates/C.Taylor (Toyota)                  +46 seconds
D.Herridge/B.Hayes (Subaru)              +52.5
S.Pedder/G.Weston (Mitsubishi)          + 1.03.8
S.Reid/A.McLoughlin (Toyota)             +2.07.3
K.Croker/D.Moscatt (Mitsubishi)          +3.50.3
S.Jansen/E.Kruper (Mitsubishi)            +5.57.9
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