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Toyota Racing Development’s Simon Evans heads into coates Rally Queensland on the Sunshine Coast this week with the champion’s number one on his door for the first time and a host of tough new challenges in his bid for back-to-back wins.

Evans, co-driven by his wife Sue, turned victory in Queensland last year into their first NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship and, with the monkey off his back and a maturing style, the 34-year-old Victorian wants to do it again.

To his advantage, first-seeded Evans and his Group N (P) turbo Corolla will be almost the only constants in a volatile field of front-runners for the first of six rounds in the 2007 drivers championship.

Even the rally itself will present different experiences, in the form of new start and finish locations and a night-time spectator stage.

The official start celebrations, from 6 pm Friday, have moved to Coolum Beach with the backing of the Maroochy Shire Council, which promotes the rally as one of the biggest annual sports fixtures on the Sunshine Coast.

The rally action comes out of the Imbil State Forest and onto the Maroochy Showgrounds main ring at Nambour for the inaugural Pacific Ford Shootout on Saturday night, while the event for the first time will finish in the forest on Sunday rather than on the coast.

A field of 61 modern and classic rally cars is heading for rally headquarters at Surfair Resort, Marcoola, this week from as far away as Western Australia. Drivers will conduct testing, route checking and vehicle checking over the next few days.

Simon Evans’ strongest rival appears to be second-seeded privateer Dean Herridge from Perth, in an upgraded Subaru Impreza. Herridge fought an inspired battle with the factory cars in 2006. Will Orders and Eli Evans, Simon’s younger brother, are in similar Subarus.

With the official Ralliart team sidelined this season, Mitsubishi will be represented in the top 10 by Kevin Shaw and Spencer Lowndes, the second driver in a brand new Lancer Evo 9. Stewart Reid, driving an ex-works Corolla, is seeded seventh and first Queenslander.

Three new cars built to international Super 2000 rules will be unproven in competition but should attract huge interest in their potential as the future of Australian rallying.

Triple champion Neal Bates, with Coral Taylor, will run a current Corolla converted to S2000 while the Toyota team prepares for the debut of the new-generation model later in the season. Bates is taking the burden of S2000 development while Evans opts for proven reliability and performance.

The Ford-backed Pirtek Rally Team, now run by V8 Supercar star Jason Bright, has rushed to complete its two Fiesta S2000s. Drivers Michael Guest and Darren Windus will conduct their first serious tests only this week.

The top 10 will come under pressure from Queensland’s leading drivers, including Glenn Brinkman, Steven Shepheard, Simon Knowles and Bruce Fullerton in Mitsubishis Evo and Matt van Tuinen in a Subaru Impreza.

Cars contesting the Australian Rally Championship and Queensland Rally Championship rounds will cover a total of 206 kilometres in 17 timed special stages over Saturday and Sunday. Classics tackle a shorter course.

The Imbil stages are tight and technically challenging, rewarding brave drivers but also able to turn the slightest mistake into catastrophe.

The service park in Imbil township, about 25 kms south of Gympie, should offer fans almost as much entertainment as the Spectator Park as crews rush to repair and service their cars in limited time.

A one-hour coverage of coates Rally Queensland will be shown nationally on Network Ten from 12 midday on Saturday 7 April and later on Fox Sports.

Adult tickets for the Imbil Spectator Park cost $25 for Saturday and Sunday and include entry to the Pacific Ford Shootout on Saturday night. Entry to the Shootout only costs $10 for adults. Children are free.

Tickets will be on sale at the Coolum start, Nambour showgrounds, Imbil Spectator Park and Imbil Service Park.

coates Rally Queensland opens the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship for the first time in recent memory, but this is its 12th year on the Sunshine Coast and the 36th organised by the Brisbane Sporting Car Club. 


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