Victoria’s Eli Evans, currently sitting second in the 2008 Australian Rally Championship (ARC) standings, has made the toughest of decisions as he attempts to secure a place in the 2009 World Rally Championship (WRC) via the Pirelli Star Driver program.
Evans, 24, will travel to Malaysia in early October to compete against other young hopefuls from the Asia Pacific region, all vying for the opportunity to contest a series of six WRC events in 2009, driving identical Group N or Super 2000 cars which will be supplied and serviced under an FIA contract with a preparation company.
The caveat for Evans’ dream of making it to the world stage is that his 2008 ARC ambitions need to be put on hold as he will forgo the penultimate round of the Championship, the Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge which is held out of Burnie over the 4th-5th October. “It’s a real shame that the calendar has played out this way,” said Evans. “I was really looking forward to testing out my tarmac skills in Burnie and giving myself a chance at chasing Neal (Bates) down for the Championship win, but the timing of the two events was too close together, meaning I had to choose one or the other”.
In the end the lure of making it on a world scale was too much for Evans. “To be given a chance as big as this means I have to be as focussed as possible, and that meant not catching the first flight out of Tasmania and heading straight to Malaysia after,” said Evans.
While on the surface it may seem disappointing for the ARC to lose one of its stars at such a crucial part of the season, the bigger picture means that success in Malaysia for Evans leading to a WRC drive will help promote the sport in Australia. “With WRC podium finishes all this season, (Subaru WRC driver) Chris Atkinson has shown what a great breeding ground the ARC is for drivers to make it to the top level of the sport,” added Evans. “Currently he’s the only one flying the Australian flag in the WRC, and while he’s doing a great job I think having more Aussies competing on a world scale will definitely help show what a strong national series the ARC is.”
The news means that Neal Bates, currently sitting atop the 2008 ARC points standings, will only have to score 67 points at the Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge to become the Australian Rally Champion for the fourth time in his career. “Of course I’d prefer Eli be at the event rather than heading overseas, but at the end of the day it makes my job of winning the title a little easier, given that my lead over Simon (next-placed challenger, TRD team mate Simon Evans) is fairly significant.” However Bates doesn’t intend to just sit back and let the result come to him. “We’re aiming to win the event as always” said Bates.