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2006 Rally of Melbourne



Toyota's Simon Evans has won his first Australian Rally Championship, clinching the title at the NGK Rally of Melbourne.

The championship is Toyota's first since team mate Neal Bates won the last of his three consecutive championships in 1995.

Simon and Sue Evans finished 2006 off in style by chasing down and passing Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder on the last stage of the day to claim yet another heat win.

In addition to Evans' victory, Bates' third place overall in Melbourne was enough to see a Toyota championship first and second.

Evans' triumph in the drivers' championship also adds Toyota's manufacturers' title - secured at last month's Toyota Rally SA.

Both TRD Corollas finished every heat of the 2006 season, while a Corolla was victorious in three of the season's six rounds.

However, the combination of Simon and Sue Evans was the only crew to win more than once throughout the year - at Western Australia's QUIT Forest Rally and Coates Rally Queensland.

Once considered the wild man of Australian rallying, Evans' results in 2006 indicate amazing consistency - two wins, three second places and one fourth position.

Evans was justifiably thrilled to claim his first national title.

"I could not be happier right now," he said.

"Sue and I have sacrificed so much to be where we are - I used to look at factory rally drivers and think how good it must be to be in that position.

"Now I'm doing it, I'm living my dream and I'm the Australian Rally Champion.

"This team is just magnificent - they have made an awesome car, and whenever anything at all goes wrong, they always have it under control.

"I just cannot describe the emotions right now - I always thought that I could get to this point, but there were some times that really made me question it."

It was a satisfying occasion for Neal Bates and Coral Taylor as well. Bates has overseen the development of the Group N(P) Corollas since it began in 2002.

He was overjoyed to see his cars finish first and second in the championship, as well as taking out the manufacturers' title.

"We have worked incredibly hard at developing these cars to the point where they can win rallies - and now championships," he said.

"We've had plenty of ups and downs along the way, which just make this even sweeter.

"Congratulations to Simon and Sue - they have been very quick and consistent all year and thoroughly deserve the championship.

"When we signed them, we wanted them to win championships for Toyota, and now they have delivered us one.

"We were very consistent all season and got a lot of points, and only one car got more than us - and that was a Toyota so I am happy."

The final results from the NGK Rally of Melbourne saw Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder win the event, from the Evans combination and Bates and Taylor. Subaru's Dean Herridge was fourth.

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Final Heat 2 results:
1) S.Evans Toyota 39:35.5
2) S.Pedder Mitsubishi +1.2
3) D.Herridge Subaru +27.1
4) N.Bates Toyota +50.2
5) D.Windus Subaru +1:48.7
6) K.Shaw Mitsubishi +2:31.4

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Final overall results:
1) S.Pedder Mitsubishi
2) S.Evans Toyota
3) N.Bates Toyota
4) D.Herridge Subaru
5) K.Shaw Mitsubishi
6) D.Windus Subaru

NEC Australian Rally Championship - Final points standings:
1) S.Evans Toyota 224 points
2) N.Bates Toyota 193
3) D.Herridge Subaru 187
4) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 167
5) D.Windus Subaru 81
6) S.Reid Toyota 62

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Hail, snow and a fallen tree have led to the cancellation of the latest two stages in the NGK Rally of Melbourne.

After the day's first service interval, crews ran on the Mount Slide [SS11] and De Bortoli Super Special [SS12] stages with Toyota's Simon and Sue Evans winning both stages

The results saw the duo reduce the gap to heat leader Scott Pedder to just 2.6s, strengthening their grip on the NEC Australian Rally Championship.

Neal Bates and Coral Taylor maintained consistent pace, continuing his solid run in fourth place and the possibility of a TRD first and second in the championship.

However, the event took a turn for the worse on the long liaison to the 24.8 kilometre Kalatha stage as rain began to pour down.

As crews got closer to the stage it soon became hail, and as they climbed into the hills snow began to fall.

Shortly before the scheduled start time of the stage the ferocious, icy winds blew several trees down across blocking the stage, access roads and destroying officials' vehicles at a spectator point.

The stage would be simply too dangerous and difficult to run.

Simon Evans agreed with the decision to cancel the latest two stages - despite the cancellations ending any possibility of Evans winning the event, with only 2.6s between himself and leader Scott Pedder.

"I'm a little bit gutted, but I'm also relieved. It was going to be diabolical out there, and incredibly dangerous - it was dangerous just getting to the start of the stage.

"There were two rivers running down the tyre tracks from this morning - the organizers have made a decision and I think it's the right one.

"I asked Sue if we should have a crack at the rally win, and she just said 'championship', but it won't matter in the end.

"It is always worth putting the pressure on Scott and maybe he can make a mistake, but the reality is that we just have to finish those two stages to win the championship."

Team boss Neal Bates was also fully behind the decision to cancel the stages.

"It was hailing so heavily up there the whole ground was white," he said.

"There were trees falling down and it was just an unsafe situation - I think it was definitely the right call.

"We'll take it easy on the last two stages and hopefully have a problem-free run.

"The championship's not over yet, but I guess we're in reasonable shape."

Just two more stages remain in the NGK Rally of Melbourne, and the 2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship.

If Simon Evans remains second for today he will clinch the championship, while Neal Bates will claim second if he remains fourth in this heat.

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Heat 2. Results after SS12:
1) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 31:49.6
2) S.Evans Toyota +2.6
3) D.Herridge Subaru +25.7
4) N.Bates Toyota +42.7
5) D.Windus Subaru +1:23.5
6) K.Shaw Mitsubishi +2:12.7

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Damp roads, cold winds and dark grey skies greeted teams as they approached Heat 2 of the NGK Rally of Melbourne this morning.

And it was a wild ride for the championship-leading Corollas as the slippery roads made for trying conditions.

Simon Evans was faced with the extra test of being the trailblazer - the first car on the road through the stages.

He could not have asked for trickier conditions as he attempts to secure his first Australian Rally Championship.

"They put out a caution note for Kalatha [the morning's first stage] saying the last 500 metres was very slippery," said Evans.

"But when I got there it was no more slippery than the rest of the stage. The whole lot was quite slippery - you had to be careful and drive smartly on it.

"I thought the car was perfect, but in the spanner check the boys have found that the sway bar is broken - it's not a huge issue and they're on to the job.

"To be honest, I don't think we could generate enough grip to even notice the stabiliser bar.

"The key now is to just focus on each stage and not worry about the times."

With the possibility of more rain, TRD team boss Neal Bates was apprehensive about facing the Kalatha [SS9] and Blowhard [SS10] stages again this afternoon if the rain returns.

"I hope it doesn't rain again, because if it does those roads will be diabolical," he said.

"It was really slippery this morning and they will have been churned up then - if they get rained on again it will be a nightmare.

"You've just got to go with a tyre that will cope with the wet conditions - if it is dry, maybe they'll be a little bit soft but that probably won't matter at the end of the day.

"Scott and Simon are geniuses in those conditions - they were miles quicker than everyone this morning."

There are four more stages before the final service of the 2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship.

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Heat 2. Results after SS10:
1) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 24:29.4
2) S.Evans Toyota +6.6
3) D.Herridge Subaru +24.7
4) N.Bates Toyota +45.2
5) D.Windus Subaru +1:11.7
6) K.Shaw Mitsubishi +1:50.3

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Toyota's Simon Evans is just eight stages away from claiming his first Australian Rally Championship.

The Victorian drove a consistent and clean Heat 1 to finish today's running in second place behind the Mitsubishi of Scott Pedder.

His team mate Neal Bates remains second after extending the gap to Subaru's Dean Herridge in third place.

Both Evans and Bates were consistently at the front of the field all day, both claiming a stage win through the heat.

Simon and Sue Evans now need to finish in the top five in Heat 2 tomorrow to put the 2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship beyond doubt.

"I've had a ball today," said the series leader. "Scott's driven very well but we've done what we need to do today.

"Step by step, we're getting closer to the championship. We had a really good result today - a solid second.

"If I keep it clean and neat tomorrow, drive to my own plan and don't worry about everybody else's stage times the results should come."

Bates was also happy with his firmer grip on second place in the championship, but was amazed at the lack of grip this afternoon.

"The last two stages were much, much more slippery than we anticipated," said the TRD team boss.

"In the second last stage, I had to check that I had turned the centre differential on because it was just so slippery.

"In his situation, Scott can drive off into the distance because he's got nothing to lose - we've got everything to lose and if you want to go at that pace you have to take some pretty big risks. It's not worth it for us.

Tomorrow is the final day of the 2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship, with the TRD drivers aiming for a drivers' championship to add to the manufacturers' championship that Toyota has already wrapped up this season.

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Heat 1. Final results:
1) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 1:01:50.2
2) S.Evans Toyota +16.4
3) N.Bates Toyota +25.5
4) D.Herridge Subaru +49.9
5) W.Orders Subaru +1:13.9
6) D.Hills Mitsubishi +3:40.6

2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship - Drivers' standings with one heat remaining:
1) S.Evans Toyota 194 points
2) N.Bates Toyota 175
3) D.Herridge Subaru 166
4) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 143
5) S.Reid Toyota 72
6) W.Orders Subaru 69

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TRD drivers Simon Evans and Neal Bates remain ideally placed to extend their lead in first and second place in the NEC Australian Rally Championship.

In Heat 1 of the NGK Rally of Melbourne, Evans and Bates are still in second and third place respectively with their main championship protagonist, Subaru's Dean Herridge, in fourth place 22.7s behind Bates.

Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder currently leads the event, 18.6s ahead of Simon Evans.

The fourth, fifth and sixth stages were repeats of the day's first three stages.

The championship leader was happier with the harder tyre compound for the last group of stages.

"Those tyres were definitely better suited to the conditions," Evans said.

"We'll keep the same tyres again, but we'll only change the fronts to try and save some [tyres] for tomorrow.

"Tomorrow's stages are better suited to me - I like those stages and that forest a lot better.

"These next two stages are also favourites of mine. I'll keep the same mindset - just drive clean and neat.

"I don't want to try and step it up and try to take the [heat] win off Scott, because I'll have to increase the risk - and I've got a championship to think about."

Team boss Neal Bates also enjoyed the harder tyres in the latest three stages.

"Because we repeated those three stages, the roads were swept and in better condition than this morning," he said.

"The tyres were definitely better this time around, they were a better choice.

"We'll stick with the same tyres this afternoon, but we'll just put two new fronts on.

"My goal this afternoon is to stay in third - I would love to move up to the lead, but that is realistically not going to happen."

Just two stages remain in Heat 1 of the NGK Rally of Melbourne.

NGK Rally of Melbourne - Heat 1. Results after SS6:
1) S.Pedder Mitsubishi 46:50.2
2) S.Evans Toyota +18.6
3) N.Bates Toyota +30.2
4) D.Herridge Subaru +52.9
5) W.Orders Subaru +1:06.8
6) G.Raymond Subaru +2:14.4

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TRD's Simon Evans and Neal Bates have begun their quest for NEC Australian Rally Championship glory at the season-ending NGK Rally of Melbourne.

After the event's first three stages championship leader Evans sits second, 14.3s behind Heat 1 leader Scott Pedder.

Bates is just 3.6s behind his team mate, and 17.1s behind the Subaru of Will Orders

Pedder's Mitsubishi was the fastest on the first and third stages, with Subaru's Dean Herridge claiming the second stage.

However Herridge, who is the closest threat to a Toyota first and second in the championship, suffered a tyre puncture in the third stage which dropped him to fifth overall, 47.1s behind the leader.

The Toyota team selected its softest tyre compound for the cold conditions of the morning stages.

The soft tyre combined with the loose gravel made the going tricky for Evans who, as the first car on stage, was sweeping the roads for the following runners.

"I probably chose too soft a tyre and I might have been a little conservative towards the start of the rally," said Evans.

"We're going to go with a more aggressive tyre choice now and we'll see what happens from there.

"I found the roads a bit slippery. We were definitely sweeping the roads on a couple of the stages, but they're all in brilliant condition - very smooth."

Team mate Bates is also heading into the next two stages with a harder tyre compound.

"The tyres were very good in the first stage," he said.

"They probably got a bit soft in that last one, but you've got to make a choice at the start of the rally. We're going for a bit harder compound in these next stages.

"Scott and Dean were going quickly, but we were reasonably happy with our pace.

"The roads were pretty good, but there will be more grip out there this time just through the roads being swept."

There are two more stages before the next service in the Rally of Melbourne.

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"I would love to win a fourth championship TRD's Simon Evans and Neal Bates are eagerly awaiting the start of this weekend's NGK Rally of Melbourne as the NEC Australian Rally Championship reaches its climax.

At this morning's shakedown the championship leaders were looking forward to the challenge ahead.

With the manufacturers' championship already sewn up for the Toyota team this year, Evans and Bates can focus on the race for the drivers' title this weekend.

Victorian Simon Evans enters his home event with a newly brunette co-driver and wife [Sue], and a 16 point lead over team mate Bates.

"I just can't wait to get into it," said Evans.

"The championship is a long way from being over, and we've still got a big job to do this weekend.

"I just want to go out there and drive like I have done all year - I've always been pretty good at just jumping in the car and driving it.

"The setup is similar to the other events this year - it felt good on the practice stage today."

Team boss Neal Bates is looking for his fourth Australian Rally Championship title, but must keep an eye on Subaru's Dean Herridge, who is just six points behind the Toyota driver.

But the 1993, 1994 and 1995 champion is intent on making it a TRD first and second in this year's title.

"I'm just treating this like any other rally," he said.

"You have to because it is exactly the same job that you have to do at the other events - you've still got to concentrate on driving as fast as you can.

"I would love to win a fourth championship, but the reality is that something would really have to go wrong for Simon for me to get there - and as the team boss I don't want that to happen because he's driven really well all year."

The NGK Rally of Melbourne is on this weekend in the Yarra Valley, September 23-24, with the champion to be finalised on Sunday afternoon at the podium ceremony at De Bortoli Winery.

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