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After competing all over Australia, the Pirtek Rally Team will for the first time take part in an event that they have comprehensive knowledge about.

The final round of the NEC Australian Rally Championship is the NGK Rally of Melbourne in the Yarra Valley. It's been on these roads that the team has carried out extensive testing with the Ford Focus.

Although the team has plenty of knowledge of the roads and the expected weather conditions, they will have a different driver taking the wheel.

Rick Bates will drive the Focus following the road license suspension of Michael Guest. Bates has driven the Focus in a full day's testing and will drive another day in the Yarra Valley at a Pirtek corporate ride day.

Bates is a former Formula Two Rally Champion and has driven a wide range of vehicles on different types of events. Importantly he has plenty of experience at the Rally of Melbourne.

"I've driven the Rally of Melbourne a number of times and have always enjoyed it," said Bates.

"The stages have not changed all that much so there shouldn't be too many surprises.

"I have had a full day in the Focus and I have been happy with the car. It's been a pretty big learning curve, but the crew have been fantastic with providing information on set-up and adjustments to how I like it.

"This is also my first experience with Hankook tyres. From my initial experience at testing it's all been very good. Also the crew has very good knowledge on what tyres will best suit the car and the conditions.

"I'm fully aware of the role I have been asked play in Melbourne. I will attack, but still respect that this is all part of the car's development and it's important to complete the event.

"Rear-wheel-drive is definitely a fun car to drive and something that I've had experience with.

"I have driven with Ford at a V8 Supercar level, so it's nice to again be back part of the Blue Oval racing programme."

Pirtek Rally Team Technical Director Steve Hoinville has been pleased with how Bates has fitted into the team.

"Rick is a professional driver and his approach has been nothing short of that," said Hoinville.

"The opportunity to get feedback from another top-grade driver has been important in the ongoing development of the car.

"The test with Rick went really well and we are very confident that he'll do a good job for us this weekend.

"In terms of improvements to the car, we've just further refined the package we had at South Australia. It's proven very reliable and we are confident of the car's capabilities on the Yarra Valley roads.

"Getting on roads that we have full knowledge about is something that we are looking forward to. This makes our tyre selection from Hankook a lot easier. We go into the Rally of Melbourne very confident that we can the full potential out of the Hankook tyres."

Mark Stacey returns to the co-driver's seat for the Rally of Melbourne after missing the previous round in South Australia due to oversees rally commitments.
The NGK Rally of Melbourne gets underway in the Dockland's area of Melbourne on the evening of Friday 22 September. All the competitive sections, including the popular De Bortoli Winery stages, will be run on the Saturday and Sunday. The Rally of Melbourne includes 16 times stages totalling 208.18 competitive kilometres.
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