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Queensland's Sunshine Coast will host the first round of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship next year – and will celebrate with a string of improvements for spectators.

The annual coates Rally Queensland on March 31 – April 1 will open the six-round 2007 calendar, which was announced last week by the series organisers.

The new date, almost three months earlier than the 2006 event, which was round three, will come with several important changes aimed at boosting spectator appeal.

While the rally will retain its base in Maroochy Shire, it will move to new venues at Coolum Beach for its traditional gala start and street party on Friday night March 30 and to Maroochy Showgrounds at Nambour for a proposed “super-special” spectator stage on Saturday night.

The rally’s operational headquarters and the main accommodation for around 1000 visiting team members, officials and supporters will also be located in the Coolum area.

The showgrounds stage should see the full field of more than 60 cars attempting timed runs under lights in the main ring, with spectators able to see all the action from grandstands.

All other competitive stages will remain in the Imbil State Forest, which for the first time will host the official finish and podium presentation on Sunday afternoon, another bonus for spectators.

Event Director, Errol Bailey, said the opening round means Queenslanders should be the first Australian rally fans to see factory cars built for the international FIA Super 2000 category, which will be admitted to the series from next year.

“Toyota and Ford are building S2000 cars. Not only are they guaranteed to be spectacular outright contenders, but hopefully their arrival on the rally scene will free up their current Corolla and Focus contenders for privateers to run,” Mr Bailey said.

“Add in the highly successful Mitsubishi Ralliart team and Subaru privateers running in the existing Group N, which have been fast enough to win rounds in 2006, and it’s clear Coates Rally Queensland will be a cracking start to the 2007 championship.

“The organisers are very excited about winning the first round, which always attracts extra national attention, and about the opportunity our new local venues provide to make a better event for spectators.”

In its 36th year under the organisation of Brisbane Sporting Car Club Ltd, Coates Rally Queensland is the longest-running annual round of the Australian Rally Championship. Next year’s event will be the 12th on the Sunshine Coast.
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