Caltex supported driver Simon Evans continues to lead the way in the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship after finishing fourth in the Toyota Rally SA this weekend.
Photo credit: Joel Strickland
Evans’ Toyota team-mate Neal Bates made it five straight podium finishes by claiming second place overall to ensure the Caltex-backed Toyota drivers remained one-two in the championship standings.
Evans entered the round 14-points ahead of his Toyota Racing Development’s team-mate and despite encountering problems on today’s second stage the Victorian has extended his championship lead by two points with one round remaining.
After finishing second in yesterday’s opening heat, Evans set the fastest time across the opening test of heat two before his day took a turn for the worse when the bonnet on his Caltex-backed Toyota Corolla flipped up and crashed into the windscreen just after the start of the next stage.
"We drove about half a kilometre with my neck cranked right over trying to see out the side window before we stopped," said Evans.
"I tried to re-pin the bonnet back down but it was all bent out of shape, so I just thought 'rip it off'."
While Evans won today’s opening stage Bates was slowed after having to pass opening heat winner Scott Pedder, who was slowed with turbo problems.
“It was very difficult to see with a mixture of smoke and dust from Scott’s car during the stage and as a consequence I was sixth fastest,” said Bates.
As a result of the incident with his bonnet Evans dropped down to 17th position. Only a sterling drive by the Victorian and his co-driver wife Sue ensured the pair climbed up the order to eventually finish the heat in sixth place.
Evans’ pace was highlighted by the fact that he set the fastest stage time on four of the final five tests. Bates made it a clean sweep in the afternoon for the Caltex-backed Toyota drivers by winning the remaining stage.
"It's been a tough day - the blame falls squarely on my shoulders for the bonnet problem," said Evans.
"After that, I just concentrated on driving the car fast and hopefully the times would get me back up the order a bit.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to get back into the points. It's not so bad when something like that happens and you're fifth in the championship, but when you're leading it, it's terrible.
"Situations like that are when champions step up - and I want to be the champion this year so I had to stand up and work hard."
Evans is enthusiastic about heading to the final round at his home event in Melbourne, on top in championship points.
"I am obviously very fond of Melbourne - it was where I won my first round as a privateer.
"I'm really looking forward to it - hopefully I can get a really good result and take out the championship at home in front of my family and friends."
While pleased to be in second in the championship Bates hasn’t given up in the chase for the title.
"Simon's still got a handy lead in the championship, but it is a shame about his problem this morning,” said Bates
"We've been hanging in there all year and trying to do a consistently good job.
"Obviously we're getting a good amount of points and I would dearly love to win another Australian Rally Championship - we'll see how it goes in Melbourne."
The Caltex supported Pirtek Ford Rally Team finished its third-straight event during its maiden year in the championship.
Yesterday’s opening heat brought 18th place outright, although this did include a 50-second time penalty for leaving service late when the crew had to change an exhaust manifold header. Without the penalty Michael Guest would have finished 16th.
Today’s second leg was a far better run with 12th place overall for the Caltex-backed team.
"I was really looking forward to a top result this weekend, but clearly the competition was on it," said Guest.
"I drove the car as fast as I could. We were pleased on the really fast stages, but on the twisty sections and the forestry complex stages we were up against it.”
"We are now looking forward to the final round in Melbourne. It's Ford's hometown and it's an event that's been pretty good to me in the past. They are real driver's stages and I'm confident in having a good package including a strong tyre option from Hankook."
Local driver Steve Glenney claimed this weekend’s overall victory, a career first for the privateer, ahead of Bates and last round winner Dean Herridge.
Evans remains in the lead of the championship on 170 points ahead of Bates (154) and Herridge (148).
The next, and final, round of the championship will be contested at the NGK Rally of Melbourne on September 22-24.