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Neal Bates and Simon Evans are aiming to repeat their 1-2 performance from last season when they head to the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) season-opening event in Tasmania that runs from 13-15 February.

Now a four-time champion following a popular series victory last year, Bates and long-time co-driver Coral Taylor scored a comprehensive win in last year's round on the Apple Isle and aim to do the same again.

The all-tarmac event is a longer format than last year's Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge and competitors are likely to be greeted by much warmer and drier conditions given the ARC event's new February date.

"I am really looking forward to Tasmania," said Bates who as reigning champion will carry the number one in 2009.

"The event was very good to us last year and it was certainly a round that helped secure the championship.

"Last year tyre conservation wasn't an issue in the wet conditions, but it will be this year as we are expecting a dry and therefore fast event. However our Michelin tyres are great, so they should stand us in good stead."

Team-mate Evans will again be joined by co-driver and wife Sue, and the duo aim to build on their impressive performance in last year's Tasmanian round where in tough conditions they finished second on their tarmac rally debut.

"This year's event is a lot different compared to 2008 as there are a lot more stages, making it more of a traditional event rather than a sprint," Evans said.

"We learnt a lot last year and we have to build on that. Tarmac rallying is different to gravel, therefore it requires a different driving style. Our main goal going in is to get some points to help build towards the championship."

Rally Tasmania will draw to a close Toyota's 19-season association with Neal Bates Motorsport and the ARC, but both Bates and Evans aim to continue running as privateers.

"Obviously I am incredibly saddened that this rally marks the end of a 19-year relationship I have had rallying with Toyota," said Bates, who has won each of his four titles in Toyota-backed Celicas and Corollas.

"My partnership with Toyota is one of the longest relationships in Australian motorsport and I have had 19 wonderful years doing something I love.

"Although it's the end of the relationship with Toyota in the ARC, it hopefully sees a continuation of success for Neal Bates Motorsport in the ARC."

Two-time champion Evans was equally reflective and expressed his pride in driving for the number one team in Australian rallying.

"We have had a good run with Toyota and Sue and I feel lucky we were a part of it," Evans said. "I have been privileged to drive these fantastic cars and to be part of such a great team. The highlight was undoubtedly the two titles."

Rally Tasmania is again based in Burnie and competitive action gets underway on Friday with three stages. Crews then contest eight stages on Saturday and Sunday including a 20-kilometre pass through Hellyer Gorge. 
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