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Toyota begins its defence of the 2007 NEC Australian Rally Championships for drivers and manufacturers in paradise.

Round 1 of the championship has moved to the white sands and turquoise waters of the Sunshine Coast, and a new base at Marcoola.

The event will begin with a Super Special Stage at Nambour Showground, where fans can get up close to the action.

From there, drivers and teams head to the service park at Imbil where the drivers will wind their way through the forests of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

The event will mark the competitive debut of the Super 2000 category in Australia, and the start of Toyota's and Simon Evans' title defences.

Simon Evans will begin the season in last year's Group N(P) Corolla, while Neal Bates will drive a current-shape Corolla S2000 development car. The brand new S2000 Corolla is expected to debut in Round 3 of the championship.

Simon Evans:
"It would have been great to start the year in an S2000 Corolla, but then again it is also nice to begin a title defence in the car in which I won the championship. It took a long time for me to become the Australian Rally Champion, and I have no intention of not being the champion again this year - but it's going to be a tough year.

"I've always been quick on the Queensland roads, although last year was the first time I had been able to really put a good result together - and we won with a leaking gearbox. The roads are really fast, but also very technical and reward brave and precise driving."

Neal Bates:
"The first event in Queensland is going to be very interesting. No-one knows just how fast the S2000 cars of Toyota and Ford will be. We think the Corolla is at least as fast as our Group N(P) from the testing we've done, but we won't truly know until we get it out there. Running the two cars side by side over the first two rounds should give us a good understanding.

"I don't have any idea how fast the Fords will be, or exactly how many top Subarus and Mitsubishis will be running, so it is a little difficult to gauge. I'm looking forward to it, though, because the S2000 car is a really enjoyable thing to throw through the forest."

The Coates Rally Queensland is on in the Sunshine Coast hinterland from 31 March to 1 April.

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