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Subaru privateer Dean Herridge clinched a dramatic win in the first heat of the Subaru Safari Tasmania today, stealing the win from Toyota's Simon Evans on the final stage of the day.

Despite having won several international rally titles, this is the first NEC Australian Rally Championship heat win for Dean Herridge and co-driver Bill Hayes and it was hard to wipe the smile off Herridge's face when he returned to the thunderous applause of his crew and supporters at the rally's service park in Geeveston.    

"I'm absolutely wrapt!" the West Australian privateer said.  "I feel like I've lifted a monkey off my back because I've been on the podium at every round of the NEC ARC over the years but I've never won a heat- until today that is!"    

The morning belonged to Simon Evans, who won the first three stages and began to open up a gap of almost twenty seconds to his nearest rival Herridge.     Herridge fought back and won three stages but with just 11 kilometres of competition remaining Evans held an almost insurmountable 21 second lead.     It was a puncture to the left front tyre of his Corolla Sportivo on the final 11km stage that allowed Herridge to capitalise and clinch victory by just 2.2 seconds.          

"It was a slow puncture that eventually went completely flat with about 5 kilometres to go," explained Evans.     "In the end I'm still happy to get second place today, after all there were other drivers who had flat tyres today and finished well down the field."    

Despite finishing second today, Evans has still increased his series lead to 14 points from Toyota team mate Neal Bates, who edged out privateer Darren Windus in the battle for third.     The run of bad luck for Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Scott Pedder continued when a rock gouged a sizeable hole in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9's fuel tank and forced the their immediate retirement from the heat on the first stage of the day.    

"It's disappointing, especially because we were second fastest on that first stage and the Evo 9 felt great," Pedder said.     "We'll be back tomorrow and hopefully our luck will turn around and we can show our true potential."    

Privateer Jack Monkhouse also made a short-lived return to the NEC ARC after a timing problem surfaced, and he was forced to park his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 after two stages. 

Behind the leaders a group of several privateers waged a see-sawing battle throughout the day for a top ten finish. Simon Jansen and co-driver Elysia Kruper in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3 were the highest placed locals, finishing seventh outright behind Queensland privateer Stewart Reid.     Victorian Glen Raymond finished less than 10 seconds behind in eighth in his Subaru Liberty.    

Pirtek Rally Team Ford finished ninth on debut in Tasmania, despite damaging the Focus' rear cross member on two separate occasions on the same stretch of road.    

"We came over a crest and hit the same rock as we'd done this morning!" Guest said. "At least it proves I drive a consistent racing line!"    

Will Orders took top honours in the BP Ultimate Challenge; his job made easier when fellow Victorian Jesse Robison rolled his Subaru Legacy. Both driver and co-driver were unhurt.    

Eli Evans dominated the Tasmanian Rally Challenge (TRC) field, posting stage times comparable with the top factory teams in the NEC ARC.    

Heat two involves a further 95 competitive kilometres over ten stages within the Southern Forests of the Huon Valley, before the podium presentation in Geeveston on Sunday afternoon.  The Subaru Safari Tasmania is the fourth round of the NEC Australian Rally Championship.    

1.        D.Herridge/B.Hayes (Subaru), 49.41.7
2.        S.Evans/S.Evans (Toyota), + 2.2 seconds
3.        N.Bates/C.Taylor (Toyota), + 30.7
4.        D.Windus/J.Mortimer (Subaru), +39.6
5.        W.Orders/T.Feaver (Subaru), +2.30.0
6.        S.Reid/I.Stewart (Toyota), +4.08.7
7.        S.Jansen/E.Kruper  (Mitsubishi), +4.10.1
8.        G.Raymond/M/Raymond (Subaru), +4.18.7
9.        M.Guest/M.Stacey (Ford), +4.37.5 

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