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The longest-running event in the Australian Rally Championship, coates Rally Queensland, returns to the Sunshine Coast in just over two weeks with new cars, new roads, more thrills for spectators and the promise of a red-hot contest between the country’s “dirtiest” drivers.

Celebrating 40 years of helping many Australian drivers to World Rally Championship level, coates Rally Queensland is expected to welcome around 70 crews from every State for Round 3 of the 2008 national series on 20-22 June.

The final countdown began today, when eight leading gravel-road drivers visited the main ring of the Maroochy Showgrounds at Nambour, venue for the Pacific Ford Shootout - two “Super Special” competitive stages that will start the event under lights and in front of a big spectator crowd on Friday night 20 June.

Two-time Australian champion Simon Evans (Toyota), ex-WRC contender Michael Guest (Subaru) Queensland champion Steve Shepheard (Mitsubishi), plus Stewart Reid, (Toyota) Matt van Tuinen (Subaru), Simon Knowles (Mitsubishi), Coast local Ryan Smart (Mitsubishi) and Gold Coaster Steve Tonna (Mitsubishi) look some cautious laps of the show ring.

While the Pacific Ford Shootout will provide an up-close sight and sound experience for spectators, the toughest action will follow over the weekend in the Imbil State Forest, south of Gympie – and this week’s heavy rain in south-east Queensland will play a part.

Event Director Errol Bailey said the dirt roads would be in perfect condition after the rain and recent grading by forestry staff.

“The roads should be absolutely fabulous. Dust won’t be a problem and the surface will be well packed. It will help preserve the cars’ tyres and I think the spectators will see some sensational high-speed driving,” he said.

A single forest spectator point would give views of cars racing out of a long straight and toward a corner at more than 200 km/h.

The course will cover a total competitive distance of 247 kilometres over 18 special stages run car-by-car against the clock.

The forestry section will cover the same area as past years, but include many new road sections.

Most challenging will be the longest stage in Australian rallying, run at the end of Saturday and Sunday when crews and cars are at their lowest ebbs.

At 35 km it will be a make-or-break test that could change the result of the rally – and for Sunday it fittingly has been named Phat Lady.

coates Rally Queensland will mark the halfway in the six-round 2008 Australian Rally Championship. But while the outright ARC is the main contest, the rally will host eight other championships or categories, including the City Subaru Queensland Rally Championship and Classic Cars.

Two-time champion and leader of the Toyota Racing Development team Neal Bates tops the ARC standings with 148 points after wins in Western Australia and Canberra, but will come under intense pressure from teammate, defending Queensland winner and currently second-placed Simon Evans (112 pts). Both will drive the unique, Australian-built Corolla Super 2000.

Third-placed Darren Windus (112 pts), from Perth, will return to the wheel of the Ford Fiesta S2000 he drove for the first time last year in Queensland.

Marius Swart has entered a Volkswagen Polo S2000, which won the 2007 South African Rally Championship, while rally legend and 1990 champion Ed Ordynski will make a cameo non-competitive appearance driving a rare and valuable ex-world championship Porsche 911.

coates Rally Queensland is expected to bring more than 1200 crews, team members and supporters to the Sunshine Coast. The event’s contribution to the local economy is recognised with support from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council and the Queensland Events Regional Development Program.

Other valued sponsors and partners are Philcomm Communications, FleetPartners, Wyndham Vacation Resorts, Hot 91.1 FM and the Sunshine Coast Daily.

The rally will be headquartered at SurfAir at Marcoola resort. Teams will be spend most of the week conducting final car preparations, technical scrutiny, forestry testing, route reconnaisance and promotional activities before the Friday night start.

A public meet-the-drivers and autograph session from 5.30 pm will precede the start of the Pacific Ford Shootout.

A one-hour coverage of coates Rally Queensland will be shown nationally on Network Ten from 12 midday on Saturday 6 July and later on Fox Sports.

Adult tickets for the Pacific Ford Shootout and the Imbil Spectator Park will cost $10, with children 12 and under free.

Tickets will be on sale at the Nambour showgrounds, Imbil Spectator Park and Imbil Service Park and on-line at www.rallyqueensland.com.au
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