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Stand-in Ford driver, Rick Bates, says the rear-drive Ford Focus that he’ll pilot in next week’s NGK Rally of Melbourne is great fun to drive, but hard work.

Bates will substitute for the licence-less Michael Guest in the event, and yesterday started to come to grips with the car for the first time, completing a two hour test session at Ford’s proving grounds at the You Yangs, near Geelong.

Speaking exclusively to RallySport Magazine this morning, Bates said that the car sounded great, and with its high-revving engine and close ratio gearbox, it was great fun to drive.

“You need to keep the car up in the powerband to achieve the best performance, but it’s hard work to drive,” he said.

While many have publicly criticized Guest for his performances this year, Bates says he doesn’t expect to be able to do anything that Guest hasn’t already done this year.

“Michael is a fast driver, and because I’ve had no prior experience in the Focus I am not expecting any big things,” Bates said. “But I’m looking forward to it immensely.”

Bates had been earmarked to drive the Focus in South Australia before CAMS gave the okay for Guest to drive, and was surprised when contacted by Ford last week to drive the car in Melbourne.

“To be honest, I’m not sure why the chose me – I guess it’s because I’ve driven plenty of different rally cars and they want some feedback,” the Canberra rally driving instructor said.

Bates will be co-driven by Guest’s regular partner, Mark Stacey, although he has yet to speak to Stacey since being given the Ford drive.

The 2003 Rally of Melbourne was the last ARC round which Bates competed in, when he was a factory driver for brother Neal’s Toyota team.

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