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This weekend's NGK Rally of Melbourne will stage a nail-biting battle to decide the new 2006 NEC Australian Rally Champion.
The winner of the driver's title will be crowned after 208 competitive kilometres and two gruelling two heats over Melbourne's fast and flowing forestry roads.
Toyota Racing Development driver Simon Evans heads into the final round with a slim 16 points lead in the driver's championship over TRD team mate Neal Bates (Evans 170 to Bates 154).
Maximum Motorsport driver Dean Herridge in a privately entered Subaru WRX is third on the points ladder (148), and Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Scott Pedder is fourth (113).
A 50% bonus points system for the final round means there is a maximum of 61.5 points on offer, and with 57 points separating the top four, all four still have a mathematical chance of winning the 2006 driver's title.
Victorian local Evans has firmed as the Championship favourite courtesy of his consistent podium finishes over the 2006 Super Series (2 round wins and 4 heat wins).
However, picking a winner in Melbourne is made harder by the fact that no driver has dominated the 2006 championship; infact there have been four different winners from the previous five rounds.
Evans has claimed two round wins (Qld and WA) while Bates (ACT) and Herridge (Tas) have one win each. Privateer Steve Glenney claimed the recent round win in South Australia.
If Evan wins, it will be his first Australian Rally Championhip title, and will be only the second time in history that a husband and wife team have won the Australian Rally Championship; David and Kate Officer being the first in 1968.
Although Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder has not won a round of the NEC ARC this year, he has scored three podium finishes and won heats at each of the past three rounds of the championship.
"Like myself, Simon Evans is from Melbourne and I'm sure he'd love to finish the championship by winning his home rally just as much as I would, "said Pedder, whose team's headquarters are based in Dandenong.
"We've been pretty stiff not to win a rally outright so far this year. We probably should have won three - we've had the pace. It would be nice to finish off the championship in the right style."
Rick Bates will make a one-off return to gravel rallying in the Pirtek Rally Team-prepared Ford Focus at the team's home event.
Bates, a former Formula Two Rally Champion, is substituting for regular driver Michael Guest who will not compete due to a recent suspension of his civil driver's licence.
The NGK Rally of Melbourne will also host an exciting finale to the inaugural privateers BP Ultimate Challenge.
Young Victorian driver Will Orders in the Motorsport Parts Subaru WRX is just 12 points ahead of Euro Tech Automotive-sponsored Tasmanian driver Simon Jansen, who in turn is 2 points ahead of Queenslander Bruce Fullerton.
The BP Ultimate Challenge field also includes Cleo Bachelor of the Year finalist John Murray Jnr, and locals Brendan Reeves and Jesse Robison.
Victorians will also get the chance to see top NEC ARC privateers in action, including Japanese Wholesale Spares driver Darren Windus and Stewart Reid in an ex-factory Toyota Corolla Sportivo, along with a host of talented Victorian drivers.
Privateer Kevin Shaw makes a welcome return to the Championship in a Dunlop Motorsport entered Lancer Evo 7, recently purchased from fellow privateer Martin Lintott.
Shaw and co-driver John Allen were forced to sit out the majority of the series after a fiery crash at May's Quit Forest Rally destroyed Shaw's previous Lancer Evo 6.
As well as the final round of the national NEC Australian Rally Championship, the event doubles as a round of the RACETech Steel Victorian Rally Championship.
The 2006 NGK Rally of Melbourne involves over 200 competitive kilometres in and around Melbourne's Yarra Valley over the weekend 22-24 September.
The 2006 NGK Rally of Melbourne is run over the weekend September 22nd-24th, and will kick-off with a free-to-see Ceremonial Start along the NewQuay Promenade at Docklands Friday September 22nd.
The rally action will be based around Healesville, Toolangi and the Yarra Valley with the rally's service park at the Yarra Valley Racing Centre in Yarra Glen open to the public on both days of competition.
Highlighted vision from the pre-event shakedown and Heats One and Two will be available from Network Ten Sydney at 1600EST on Friday September 22, Saturday September 23 and Sunday September 24.
Live results will be available over the weekend from www.rally.com.au.
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