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Australian Rally Champion Simon Evans signalled he is in top form for this weekend’s coates Rally Queensland, round three of the 2008 Australian Rally Championship, by winning an unofficial shakedown session on the Sunshine Coast today.

Ahead of the rally’s official start tonight at the Pacific Ford Shootout at the Maroochy Showgrounds, Nambour, Evans stopped the clocks 0.3 seconds faster than his Toyota Racing Development teammate Neal Bates during the shakedown run at the same venue.

Third-fastest and the first privateer entry was Evans’ younger brother Eli, just ahead of Michael Guest. Both are driving Subarus.

The fastest Mitsubishi Lancer in the shakedown field was driven by Queensland champion Steve Shepheard into fifth spot.

Less than 1.5 sec. separated the first five cars, suggesting the 243 kilometres and 18 special stages to be driven through to Sunday afternoon will be closely contested.

Although not counting for rally results, the traditional shakedown is regarded as a form guide to the main event.

“You can see from the times this morning that we’re all pretty close. It should be a great event this weekend,” said Bates, who leads Evans by 36 points in the drivers standings.

Tonight’s Pacific Ford Shootout comprises two special stages, each two laps of the main show ring. A big spectator crowd is expected to watch more than 65 cars from around Australia in action under lights.

Though the showground stages are only a brief taste for spectators of the weekend ahead, the forceful Evans is expected to attack from the start.

Unbeaten last year, he has conceded the first two rounds this season to Bates and is desperate to get back in front for the second half of the six-round series.

Shakedown times
Neal Bates/Coral Taylor (Toyota Corolla S2000) 1 min. 9.22 sec.
Simon Evans/Sue Evans (Toyota Corolla S2000) 1:09.53
Eli Evans/Chris Murphy (Subaru Impreza STi) 1:09.56
Michael Guest/David Green (Subaru Impreza STi) 1:09.84
Steve Shepheard/Tom Smith (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) 1:10.66
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