Bates drives Corolla in Repco Rally
MULTIPLE Australian rally champion Neal Bates has been granted a surprise entry into the Repco Rally Australia and, in a World Rally Championship first, he will drive his specially engineered Toyota Corolla.
Bates was confirmed as a starter yesterday when Rally Australia released the start list for the September 3 to 6 event with 80 cars expected at the start line.
The four-time national champion was not expected to start the event but following a special homologation - the approval process a car most go through to ensure it conforms with the regulations and rules of a certain motor sport series - Bates was granted approval to race the Corolla.
The Corolla, which will compete as the only Super 2000 car in the production category of the rally, differs from regular rally cars in that it is powered by a naturally-aspirated two-litre engine and does not employ a turbo-charger.
At just under 1200kg, it weighs about 200kg less than a regular rally car and has a six-speed sequential gear box.
The S2000 category was brought in by motor sport powerbrokers to allow manufacturers and privateers to build relatively inexpensive rally cars using a common, controlled formula.
For Bates, who developed the S2000 Corolla, the chance to race his unique car in front of the elite of the sport has two advantages.
Firstly, he hopes to be successful and finish in the top 10, and secondly it's a great marketing opportunity because there has been interest in his S2000 Corolla from other teams and competitors.
There is a plan to introduce the S2000 as the primary specification for cars in the WRC by 2011.
“Obviously, it's exciting,” Bates said from Canberra yesterday.
“For rallying this is the biggest event in the country and we thought we were a long-shot of starting. We had this race in mind a couple of years ago but there were a lot of things we had to do for the homologation and it was a big job to have that ready before the rally.
“It's the only S2000 Corolla built and we designed and built it in Canberra and we're proud of the fact. Certainly, there's interest in the model from overseas but nothing has happened yet.”
The 44-year-old, who will be assisted by his co-driver of 16 years, Coral Taylor, has also renewed assistance from Toyota after the company pulled out of the sport at the end of last year due to the global financial crisis.
Bates, who has contested rounds of Rally Australia when it was based in Perth and also one Rally New Zealand, is looking forward to letting his Corolla go on the roads of the Tweed and Kyogle shires.
“The talk is that it will be a fast rally,” he said.
“I don't know the roads so we'll have to see when we get up there. But obviously we're looking forward to driving on the roads in an incredibly beautiful area.”