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There will be three drivers who line up at the start of the first special stage in the upcoming Rally of Canberra next week, hell bent on beating each other for the win.

Not since the early part of the decade have we seen the explosive potential for three drivers to take on each other in what is sure to be the best battle for rally honours since Neal Bates and the late Possum Bourne battled each other in their ex-WRC machines around the forestry roads in Canberra.

The Rally of Canberra is famous for these epic battles and the iconic Canberra event gets underway next Saturday, March 7, and is the second round of the Australian Rally Championship.

No longer a round of the Asia Pacific Championship after the ACT Government withdrew support last year, many thought that they would not see another Rally of Canberra, but under the organization of Mike Bell and his band of local and interstate volunteer helpers, they have put together an event equal to last year with nowhere near the funding. In these tough times, it is no mean feat.

All was rosy at the top end of the sport until an announcement a month ago that Toyota would no longer compete in the ARC, the global meltdown of Toyota’s fortunes overseas the reason behind the sudden action.

Local driver, Neal Bates, was stunned as one could expect, commenting just after Christmas, “I would have bet my house!” (that they would stay rallying this year.)

Despite the decision, Bates and his team picked themselves up and took a clean sweep of the top positions in the Rally of Tasmania two weeks ago, with a Bates win and Simon Evans a close second. A fitting end to nineteen years of support from the Toyota factory team. Bates remains an ambassador for Toyota in Australia.

During the rally it was announced that Evans would return to the family fold to run a Subaru under the Evans building banner, with Bates commenting, “I am happy for Simon, but I am not telling him any more of my secrets this weekend!”

Whilst all this drama was unfolding during the event, the other Evans was chalking up stage wins. Eli Evans has matured over the last year, not unlike his older brother. He is more than capable of taking out the Rally of Canberra in the Tankformers Subaru.

In the background the Evans team was securing the ex-Scott Pedder APRC Mitsubishi Evo 9, keeping the Subaru for another day.  This car was built by MRF to the latest specifications for Scott Pedder to drive in the Asia Pacific Championship last year.

So the questions are many – How will Neal Bates perform under his own team without the financial backing of Toyota? How will Simon Evans take the fight to Bates given he is driving a car he has never driven competitively? He may not have the resources he once had to tear bits off and have them put back on again at service.

Will Eli Evans take all of this in his stride and break through for an outright win? It’s fair to say next weekend he has a good chance. He has less distraction than his other two opponents, but Canberra is home base to Bates and he will be out to prove a point and impress potential sponsors.

Bates, though,  will have his work cut out for him if he is to beat the Evans onslaught.

Two brothers, out to prove a point to each other, taking the fight up to the current series leader and the current Australian Champion will be well worth watching.

The ARC field is made up of the nation's fastest rally teams. In conjunction with the ARC, a round of the local PCD Championship will be also run with local stars mixing it with crews from NSW and Victoria.

Next weekend you have some choices. Mow the grass, do the shopping or get out into the forests around Canberra and witness what will be one the very best motorsport battles you are likely to see for a long time. Come and support the rally teams by watching them at the spectator points. 

The Rally of Canberra is run over two days with the chance to see the cars in Kowen Forest to the east of Canberra for the first time at 8:09am. Entry is by Kowen Rd, opposite the driver-training track on Sutton Rd. You will be able to see the cars four times during the day.

Sunday sees the cars competing on the other side of Canberra. Spectators can view the cars from 12:44 pm onwards at the corner of Cotter Rd and Uriarra Rd ("Castrol Corner" for the rally experts).

For a map go to www.roc.com.au 

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