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Toyota's Simon and Sue Evans have begun their NEC Australian Rally Championship title defence with an impressive win in the first round at Coates Rally Queensland.

The reigning champion has been in fine form since he arrived in Queensland, setting the fastest time at Friday's shakedown, and winning both heats of the rally.

In fact, Evans set the fastest stage time on every one of the event's 17 stages in the forests of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

The Evans team never failed to impress, with scintillating time after scintillating time - his progress was only halted momentarily on SS16 when he slid off the road into two trees and into a ditch.

However, after returning to the road Evans still managed to set the fastest time on that stage.

Neal Bates had a particularly encouraging day at the office in Heat 2 behind the wheel of TRD's development Super 2000 Corolla.

A problem with a fuel rail saw Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor lose half an hour in Heat 1, but the team boss turned it around in Heat 2 setting the second fastest stage time on all of the second day's stages.

His faultless drive carried him to an impressive second in the heat, just over a minute behind his team mate.

Bates' mechanical issue in Heat 1 (where he subsequently finished 14th) meant he ended the event in fourth position.

It was a proud day for the Evans clan though, with Simon's younger brother Eli scoring third place in both heats to claim second overall in his Subaru.

Young Brendan Reeves was another star of the event, with two fourth places seeing him achieve a stunning first podium in third.

Simon Evans now leads the NEC Australian Rally Championship with 81 points, while Neal Bates sits in fourth with 44 points.

Simon Evans, Car #1, Group N(P):
"The Corolla was perfect for the whole rally - just a joy to drive. This is a great start to the season - I couldn't possibly ask for any more. I ran my own rally and we weren't even looking at stage times. I was pushing myself to see what I was capable of, and because the car was so good I felt like I could do anything with it. My goal in defending the championship was to command it from the start and control it from the front. We've worked hard in the off-season and it's paid off to date - mission accomplished for Round 1."

Neal Bates, Car #2, S2000:
"It was very satisfying to have such good pace in Heat 2. Other than a silly little problem in Heat 1, the S2000 car has actually been very reliable. Full credit to the team because they have built a very good and a very strong car. The handling of the car has been quite good all along, but I think I'm starting to understand it better and am getting it to go faster. These cars can certainly be fast - there's still a hell of a lot of work to do and weight to get out of it, but we're certainly heading in the right direction and it augurs well for the new car."

Round 2 of the 2007 NEC Australian Rally Championship is the Quit Forest Rally in Western Australia on April 28-29.
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