Under normal circumstances, yesterday's Official Launch of round four of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship (ARC), the Subaru Safari Tasmania, would have been your typical rally face-off between two of Australia's top motor sport marques Subaru and Toyota.

But when well-known Subaru privateer Dean Herridge at the last minute decided to sit out the Hobart launch of this year's event from July 14 - 16 to wait out the birth of his second child back home in Western Australia, it was the Championship's current leader, Toyota Racing Development's (TRD) Simon Evans who stole the show.

Currently sitting third on the Championship's Drivers scoreboard in his Maximum Motorsport Subaru WRX 29-year-old Herridge, who for the last few years has driven one of two cars for Subaru Motorsport's ARC team, has this year reverted to privateer status and will contest the 2006 Subaru Safari Tasmania as just that.  

Despite the change, Herridge who with ARC co-driver Bill Hayes remains a works driver for Subaru Australia's newly formed tarmac rally arm, says the up-coming Tassie round offers anyone an opportunity to make this championship their own.

“Most of the top four drivers aren't known for having great runs in Tasmania,” says Herridge who currently leads the Championship's Privateers Cup. “So I really view this as a window for someone to make a break there, really anything could happen.”

34-year-old Evans says he will use this fourth round, of six, to further extend his Championship lead by using the unique and challenging roads of Tasmania's Southern Forests to his advantage - but from previous experience agrees anything can happen in the forest.

“The Tassie round is great because it uses those wide logging roads which means your speed automatically increases during this event. When you're carrying so much more speed, the event automatically becomes more challenging.”  

“The forest has many tricks in store, you need to be ready for anything to happen,” says Evans who broke his leg in an accident at the Subaru Safari Tasmania in 2004.

Easily the Championship's dark horse, Herridge says it is his passion for gravel rallying that currently has him placed so well amongst manufacturer foes such as Evans, Evans' team mate Neal Bates and Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder.

“It is difficult but we knew the challenge we had ahead prior to taking it up. We are relishing the chance to compete against the big guys as the underdogs,” says Herridge whose motor sport budget is one of the lowest in the top six cars currently contesting the NEC Computers ARC.

“I am passionate about gravel rallying so I am glad to still have the opportunity to be involved in the series, taking on the big guys on a small budget.”

A pull on the apron strings means that during competition Herridge is forced to calculate his every corner, dip and crest like it could be a season ender.

“We have to dial ourselves into each run now days; there is a very conservative tune in the car for reliability and cost savings.”

“Not having factory backing is causing me to push myself to the limit and try things I haven't tried before. This is where a lack of development with the car becomes relevant to spending our budget wisely.”

At the remaining rounds of this year's Championship Herridge's strategy will be to use to his advantage any flaws that may appear in the performance of his Toyota rivals which he is confident will pave the way for his charge on the field and more specifically, Evans.

As the NEC Computers ARC's loveable larrikin, Evans is not unfamiliar to stealing the limelight from his contenders, as he cruises along nicely to what currently appears to be a Championship victory in his gutsy Corolla Sportivo.

Having dominated this year's Series by notching heat wins at the second and third rounds of the Series alongside his co-driver (and wife) Sue and having the first round taken out by none other than his TRD team mate Neal Bates, Evans says this is a battle for victory he couldn't be happier to fight.

“If anything, the fact that Neal and I are currently one-two in this Championship shows just how good the Toyota product really is,” says Evans.
The 2006 Subaru Safari Tasmania will kick-off with a free-to-see Ceremonial Start on Elizabeth Street in North Hobart on Friday July 14 from 7pm.

A total of 30 teams are likely to contest this year's Subaru Safari Tasmania. Another entry of interest includes the ARC's only Tasmanian entrant Hobart's Simon Jansen in a Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer III who was also at today's launch. Jansen is currently 12th in the Championship and 9th in the Privateers Cup.

The 2006 course, held within the stunning Southern Forests of the Huon Valley, is made up of about 520 kilometres. Approximately 180 of those are competitive held over two separate competition heats over two days.

Spectators can see all the rally action from five separate vantage points located within the Huon Valley including one at the Geeveston Super Special Stage at the Kermandie Oval.

For spectator and competition information on the Subaru Safari Tasmania visit the event website www.safaritasmania.com.au
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