THE best rally car drivers from Asia, the Pacific and Australia are preparing for a high-stakes battle on the Queensland Sunshine Coast following dramatic outcomes in the latest rounds of two major championships to be hosted by the International Rally of Queensland later this month.
The 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) will arrive for round four on 30 July-1 August with Japan’s Katsu Taguchi holding a reduced lead in the drivers’ standings after a troubled run in round three in New Zealand at the weekend.
In round five of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC), three-time champion and current points leader Simon Evans will face a new challenge from a group of up-and-coming young guns determined to take the place of his main rival Scott Pedder, who was injured in a crash in round four in South Australia on 27 June.
The results set the scene for a hotly-contested International Rally of Queensland, which will be the biggest championship rally in Australia this year.
An expected field of around 70 crews representing at least eight countries will contest the FIA APRC, ARC and supporting categories, including classic rally cars.
The event will start with a rally show and the 2.3 kilometre Coates Hire Rally Shootout under lights at Caloundra on Friday night 30 July and continue with forestry special stages around Imbil in the Mary Valley over the weekend.
Headquartered at the SurfAir at Marcoola beach resort, the cars and crews also will visit the hinterland towns of Kenilworth and Cooroy on Saturday.
After winning the first two FIA APRC rounds in Malaysia and Japan, 1999 champion Taguchi lost his momentum in the Rally of Whangarei, finishing sixth as a misfiring engine slowed his MRF Tyres Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
His misfortune has opened an opportunity in Queensland for the high-profile “works” Proton R3 Malaysia rally team of Queenslander Chris Atkinson, formerly with the Subaru World Rally Team, and British Rally Championship Alister McRae.
McRae finished second in New Zealand, finally delivering a solid result for the British-run Proton Satria Neo S2000 cars after a promising but patchy season debut.
Atkinson, the 2004 Rally Queensland winner, endured a further mechanical retirement, but not before winning yesterday’s first special stage.
McRae is now upbeat about Proton’s chances in Queensland against Taguchi, his Indian MRF teammate Guarav Gill and Indonesian ace Rifat Sungkar.
“I knew the car was capable of this kind of performance and I know it’s capable of going quicker as well,” McRae said in Whangarei.
“Taking second in the APRC here is really important for the team, it’s a real shot in the arm for everybody. But now we want to win. We know we have the pace to win these APRC rounds and that’s got to be the next step in Australia at the end of the month.”
Team manager Chris Mellors said the Protons would undergo more testing and development work before the International Rally of Queensland.
Having proved with an outright win in Queensland last year that he could beat the APRC drivers, Victorian Simon Evans and his co-driver wife Sue are focussing on securing their fourth Australian championship.
The Subaru pair could clinch the six-round championship early in Queensland if their rival and friend Scott Pedder is unable to recover in time from a broken leg, but it would not be without a strong challenge from young guns such as Queenslanders Ryan Smart (Toyota Corolla) and Stephen Shepheard (Mitsubishi Lancer), Victorians Glen Raymond (Toyota Corolla), Eli Evans (Honda Civic Type R) and Nathan Quinn (Mitsubishi Lancer) from Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.
Simon Evans says he’ll concentrate on his driving and let the results take care of themselves.
“The championship is far from over, that’s for sure. There’s still two rallies to go and anything can happen,” he said.
“This sport is so tough, that’s why we do it.”
Spectators will be able to see the cars in action at the Coates Hire Rally Shootout and Imbil Forest Spectator Park and during service or meet-and-greet breaks at the Novus Autoglass Imbil Service Park, Kenilworth and Cooroy.
The Mary Valley Show Society will host a dance party in the Imbil service park on Saturday for rally teams and supporters, featuring Sunshine Coast Mayor Bob Abbot and his Boreen Point Connexion band.
Sixteen gravel Special Stages will be run over Saturday and Sunday in the Imbil State Forest, near Gympie. The total competitive distance of 276 kilometres includes two stages of around 35 kms, among the longest in international rallying.
Source: Event Release