In front of his home crowd, an elated Simon Evans has won the 2006 NEC Australian Rally Championship today, after a gripping final heat of the NGK Rally of Melbourne around the Yarra Valley.
Evans and co-driver Sue won today's heat by just 1.2 seconds to Mitsubishi's Scott Pedder, but crucially the pair clinched their first NEC Australian Rally Championship.
Not since 1968 with Kate and David Officer has a husband and wife team won an Australian Rally Championship.
"I have so many emotions, and after thinking about this for so long it's unbelievable to realise that we've actually won the championship . I don't think it's sunk in yet!" said Evans as he was congratulated by many of his Toyota crew.
"Sue was so nervous at the start of the last stage because there was so much riding on us finishing this last stage, but I just put my head down and focused on the finish line."
Sue Evans was equally thrilled at winning her first championship.
"As a privateer we did t tough and there were times when I wondered whether it was all worth it," said Sue Evans.
"But now to be here as championship winners, it really shows that all that time, money and energy we put into this sport has paid off in spades!"
Neal Bates secured the runner-up spot in the championship, giving Toyota a one-two victory in the NEC ARC.
"To have both Simon and I at the top of the championship points and for Toyota to also win the manufacturer's championship . I couldn't be happier!" Bates said.
"As team boss it's good to know I had some small part in helping Simon win his first championship, it's been a perfect result for us."
Scott Pedder was keen to keep the momentum from yesterday's heat win going, and he again powered ahead of the field over the long Kalatha (24-km) and Blowhard (13-km) stages this morning, returning to the first service with a gap of 6.6 seconds to Simon Evans.
With four stages remaining Evans had closed the gap back to within 2.6 seconds and was poised to attack, however bad weather and fallen trees forced event organisers to cancel the repeat of the Kalatha and Blowhard stages.
"I'm a little bit gutted, but I'm also relieved," said Evans after the stages were cancelled.
"It was going to be diabolical out there, and incredibly dangerous - it was dangerous just getting to the start of the stage."
This left the teams with a repeat of the Mt Slide and De Bortoli Super Special stages, and although Evans clawed back the time to win the heat, the round win was handed to Pedder on a countback.
"It would have been nice to have won the heat today, but all the same, it's fantastic to get our first round win of the year," said Pedder, who also took 4th in the NEC ARC driver's title.
"This weekend has been particularly good for Mitsubishi because we've shown that that Evo 9 is a championship contender when everything gels together."
Dean Herridge narrowly missed out on a podium finish today, finishing fourth behind Bates, but consolidates his third position in the championship.
"It just wasn't our weekend I guess," said a disappointed Herridge.
"Our puncture yesterday meant we weren't able to fight for the win, but overall I'm pleased at the pace we've shown at the past three events and we'll now look forward to contesting Rally Australia as a PWRC entry."
Darren Windus in the Japanese Wholesale Spares Subaru recovered from his DNF in yesterday's heat to finish 5th outright ahead of Kevin Shaw and Glen Raymond.
The West Australian privateer also consolidated 5th in the driver's championship.
EuroTech Automotive-backed privateer Simon Jansen and co-driver Elysia Kruper won the inaugural BP Ultimate Challenge after scoring maximum points in todays' final heat.
Victorian Will Orders saw his BP Ultimate Challenge hopes disappear early today when a fuel pump problem surfaced in his Pedder Suspension Subaru Impreza WRX.
Orders fills the runner-up spot in the BP Ultimate Challenge and places a credible 7th in the NEC Australian Rally Championship.
PROVISIONAL RESULTS- HEAT ONE- NGK RALLY OF MELBOURNE
1. S.Evans/S.Evans (Toyota) 39.35.5
2. S.Pedder/G.Weston (Mitsubishi) +1.2
3. D.Herridge/B.Hayes (Subaru) +27.1
4. N.Bates/C.Taylor (Toyota) + 50.2
5. D.Windus/J.Mortimer (Subaru) +1.48.7
PROVISIONAL ROUND RESULTS- NGK RALLY OF MELBOURNE
1. Scott Pedder 55.5
2. Simon Evans 54
3. Neal Bates 39
4. Dean Herridge 39
5. Kevin Shaw 18
NEC AUSTRALIAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER'S
1. Simon Evans (Toyota) 224
2. Neal Bates (Toyota) 193
3. Dean Herridge (Subaru) 187
4. Scott Pedder (Mitsubishi) 168.5
5. Darren Windus (Subaru) 81