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Simon and Sue Evans posted a stunning victory over a top-class international field in Red Devil Rally Queensland on the Sunshine Coast today.

The two-time Australian champions from Victoria, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer, lost just one competitive stage over a total of 14 during a torrid weekend of racing in the Imbil State Forest for round two of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and round four of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC).

Only a flat tyre on the third of today’s seven stages prevented a perfect score and they beat home the winners of that stage, Cody Cocker, by almost 90 seconds overall.

It has been unusual for any other driver to beat Crocker and his Singapore Motor Image Subaru in the past three seasons of the APRC, which he has won, but this weekend he drove only as hard as he needed to win maximum points, knowing that Evans had not registered for the championship, only the event.

This scenario ensured Indian MRF Tyres team Mitsubishi driver Katsu Taguchi of Japan inherited second-place points while finishing third on times and Crocker’s teammates Emma Gilmour and Rhiannon Symth got third-place points for their outstanding drive to fourth.

While Evans had the glory of convincingly beating the cream of APRC drivers representing Japan, China, India, New Zealand, Singapore and New Caledonia, he bagged maximum points in the ARC over the nominal winner of that section, young Victorian Glen Raymond (Toyota).

Invigorated by his debut ARC round win in Western Australia last month, Raymond staged an enthralling contest all weekend with the Toyota master, Neal Bates – and won only at the very end.

The two drivers were in the extraordinary position of being on equal elapsed times going into the final stage, the 34 kilometre Phat Lady, but Raymond clinched it by just one second.

The competition was similarly intense throughout the weekend, with fast roads and highly-technical stages causing errors and mishaps.

French New Caledonian Jean-Louis Leyraud rolled his Subaru out of the event on the fourth stage today and Eli Evans was forced to retire his Subaru after its engine ingested water on a creek crossing.

Masumura/Tanaka went out after special stage eight, while Taguchi’s Indian teammate Guarav Gill damaged his Mitsubishi but was able to make the finish in fifth place.

“The roads were very, very fast and challenging. We got a flat this morning and lost our position to Taguchi, but fought back successfully,” Crocker said.

“It was important to start our defence of the APRC this way, because the points scale is very tight and we can’t afford to give anything away. This was a brand new car today and we’re delighted it went so well so soon.

“I had to be really disciplined today, just to focus on our job of collecting maximum points and not get involved with ideas of chasing Simon.”

The ever-confident Simon Evans, Australian champion in 2006-2007, delighted in dominating the field all weekend and seemingly commanding the pace at will.

“I’m ready to do it again,” he said at the trophy presentation at the Imbil Showgrounds service park this afternoon.

“That was great fun. It was incredibly tough out there and I think the rate of attrition showed that.

“This rally is one of the toughest in the calendar and to win it against this field is fantastic.”

Sunshine Coast brother and sister crew Ryan and Rebecca Smart were others to attract attention with a performance beyond expectations.

They brought their Mitsubishi in just behind Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor, in the process recording their first stage win in an ARC round, a strong achievement in only their first full national season.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in. We worked hard for this weekend – my Dad and I do all the preparation at our workshop in Yandina – but I think being familiar with the area helped us feel a little more relaxed.

“We’re just happy to be up with these guys so soon. We’re quite inexperienced as far as setting up the car goes, but the rally world is very friendly and we have been offered lots of advice by other competitors.’

Brendan Reeves, a 20-year-old Victorian ace, wrapped up the win in the Pirelli Star Driver competition with a consistent performance while challengers Hayden Paddon (NZ, Mitsubishi)  and Eli Evans suffered problems.

Reeves will progress to a shootout with up to 13 other young drivers at Repco Rally Australia in September, from which one will win a fully supported World Rally Championship campaign in 2010.

“We came here to do that and I’ve achieved it, so I’m very happy,” he said. “Now I have qualified I want to do some more racing to build up my experience.”

New Zealand veteran Brian Green scooped first in the Pacific Cup section of the APRC, with co-driver Fleur Pedersen.

In the Queensland Rally Championship round, Matt van Tuinen and Daniel Wilson wrapped up the weekend by winning six of seven stages today, ahead of Beckton/Jones and Lawrence/Andrews.


APRC (Day Two)

1 Evans(Aust)/Evans (Aust) Mitsubishi Lancer 2:21.19.1 elapsed time
2 Crocker (Aust)/Atkinson (Aust) Subaru Impreza 2:22.48.8
3 Taguchi (Japan)/Stacey (Aust) Mitsubishi Lancer 2:24.10.5
4 Gilmour (NZ)/Stacey (Aust) Mitsubishi Lancer 2:29.09.2
5 Gill (India)/Macneall (Australia) Mitsubishi Lancer 2:30.23.7

Pirelli Star Driver (Day Two)

1 Reeves (Aust)/Weston (Aust) Subaru Impreza

Pacific Cup (Day Two)

1 B. Green (NZ)/Pedersen (NZ) 2:38.07.6

ARC (Heat Two)

1 Raymond/Raymond Toyota Corolla 1:10.28.2
2 Bates/Taylor Toyota Corolla 1:10.29.2
3 Smart/Smart Mitsubishi Lancer 1:11.55.7

QRC (Heat Two)

1 Van Tuinen/Wilson Subaru Impreza 1:14.43.8
2 Beckton/Jones Mitsubishi Lancer 1:16.17.0
3 Lawrence/Andrews Mitsubishi Lancer 1:17.18.6
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