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Weeks of anticipation and tension were unleashed today at De Bortoli Winery as the NGK Rally of Melbourne saw the championship contenders hit the road for the first time in near gale like conditions at this morning's shakedown in the Yarra Valley.
Series leader Simon Evans has entered the event knowing his three championship rivals will be launching an all out assault to win the NGK Rally of Melbourne and hopefully take the championship from Evans' grasp by the end of this the final round of the championship.
"I know I'll have to drive a perfect rally, no mistakes and fast throughout, if I am to win this rally and the championship.those guys behind me have nothing to lose so they'll be going flat out and trying to put as much pressure on the Toyota's as possible," Evans said today after shakedown.
Offering a form guide for the weekend's racing action, this morning's fiercely contested Shakedown at De Bortoli Winery saw the two Toyota drivers, Evans and Neal Bates set the pace marginally ahead of Dean Herridge in his Subaru and Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder.
Setting a time of 42-seconds, Evans and Bates were equal fastest in the howling gale that met the drivers at De Bortoli Winery this morning, two seconds ahead of series rivals Herridge and Pedder each with a time of 44-seconds.
Sixteen points clear on top of the table, Evans cannot afford any slip up with teammate Neal Bates, a multiple round winner in Melbourne, hot on his heels, while privateer Dean Herridge sits just six points further adrift.
"Simon leads the series and deserves to be there but it has been close all year and the extra points available at Melbourne mean anything can happen in this rally, and it usually does," Neal Bates, Toyota Team Owner said.
"From a team perspective, we are after a 1-2 in the championship, but we have to be right up the in the NGK Rally of Melbourne to ensure that can happen."
Bates showed he had the pace this weekend with a time equal to Evans, while Herridge was also strong and showed he had the pace to challenge the leading duo.
"The Toyota's are out in front and they have been very strong this year but we have got progressively faster this season in our Subaru and while our budget isn't as large as the factory teams, we are still there ready to pounce.we'll be going flat out, there's nothing for us to lose," Dean Herridge said.
Tipped by many as the driver to watch this weekend is local Mitsubishi driver Scott Pedder, who while fourth in the championship, has shown stunning speed through many stages over the year and with his time today showed he had the pace many predicted.
"We really want to finish off the year with a round win and I'll be going out as hard as I can and try to build a lead which I can hold through to the final stage," Scott Pedder said.
Also impressive today was Pedder's cousin Will Orders, who in his Subaru set a time of 45-seconds as did Darren Windus and Kevin Shaw.
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