By any measure of performance, Simon Evans must qualify as the quickest rally driver on this continent.

The Victorian driver returns to this weekend's Rally of Canberra with an astonishing success record in national rallying: unbeaten in all 12 heats of the series during 2007 and two consecutive national titles under his belt. Little wonder no-one in the Toyota Racing Development team complains during testing when he arrives back on the service mat yet again, asking for another tweak here and a change of springs there.

Evans and team-mate, Neal Bates, were back out in the forest on Tuesday (May 6), going for test lap after test lap in their TRD Toyota Corolla S2000 cars, searching for that extra edge in speed and control. While Bates was pretty pleased with his set-up after a morning's work, Evans kept returning to the track, still seeking his optimum package.

“We've got all day to test so I'm not holding back. I haven't had this opportunity before with this new car so I'm making the most of it,” Evans admitted.

“We started off with getting the brakes sorted out, now I'm trying a few things with spring rates.”

And so relaxed is Evans behind the wheel, that in between suspension changes he napped.

For this Australian Rally Championship season, Evans has switched from the turbocharged Group N Corolla which has brought him so much success, into a newly-built S2000 car for his title defence. The new car is identical in specification to the one which his team-mate and TRD rally boss, Neal Bates campaigned last season but incorporates all the new ideas and updates which have occurred as the previous season progressed.

Evans was thrown into the deep end with his new car for the opening round of the Australian Rally Championship in Perth last month, jumping straight into the new car with little preparation or set-up time.

“My car was finished at Neal's workshop, rolled into the truck and driven straight to Perth for the rally so all things considered, I'm pretty pleased with how quick we were straight off the bat,” he said.

“I was leading the rally into the second day when the engine let go.”

The Corolla S2000 cars built by the Bates team at their Hume (ACT) workshop are state-of-the-art international rally machinery and vastly different to the production-based turbocharged cars of previous seasons. The new cars are much “peakier” in the way they produce their performance. Where the turbo cars produced a generous 500 Newton-metres of torque – or pulling power – from their engines, the S2000 produces half as much.

The upside to the new cars is they are about 200 kg lighter, have greater suspension sophistication, and a sequential gearbox which seamlessly changes gears in the blink of an eye. When driven on the limit out in the forest, the hard-revving Corollas sound like angry hornets. It's a chain-saw buzz which is becoming familiar to rally fans as more S2000 cars join the competition.

“I love this new car; it's actually more difficult to drive because all the power you have is this really narrow band right at the top of the rev range so you have to really focus on getting your entry to corners and your gear changes exactly right,” Evans explained.

“The old car was more forgiving, but from a driver's point of view the S2000 is technically more challenging; more like a race car for the forest, really.”

Also testing on the same rally track as the TRD team yesterday was reigning British champion, Guy Wilks, aboard his Italian-built front-wheel-drive Honda Civic Type R. Wilks also had a busy day sorting out his Honda, declaring the striking little two-door coupe as “a great little package which will only get better”.

Today (May 7) reigning Asia-Pacific champion Cody Crocker goes testing in his Subaru Impreza WRX STi, followed by a full day of reconnaisance for all competitors on Thursday.



















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