** Rally star Harry Bates invited driver at Sandown **
** Bates' 86 dressed in livery of dad Neal's iconic Celica GT-Four rally car **
** Intense racing expected as only 56 points separates top three drivers **
The track may be tarmac and the car somewhat newer but it might be a case of déjà vu
when the Toyota 86 Racing Series hits Sandown in Melbourne on September 14-16.
For lining up on the grid as one of the invited drivers for the weekend's racing will be Harry Bates, the 23-year-old rally driving son of Aussie rally legend Neal Bates, driving an 86 dressed in the livery made famous by his father.
Bates the son will be behind the wheel of an 86 wrapped in the colours of Bates the father's formidable 1990s Group A ST205 Celica GT-Four providing a fitting, if slightly belated, Father's Day tribute.
Harry Bates will be joined by Leanne Tander - who has raced all manner of cars from Formula Fords to V8 Supercars and is the wife of Supercars veteran Garth Tander - as the second invited driver in the Sandown round of the Toyota 86 Racing Series.
As part of its program of mentoring aspiring race drivers and talented amateurs, each round of the 86 series features two invited drivers who compete in all three of the weekend's races, which for Sandown will include another 32 racecars.
Bates said although it will be completely different to the gravel and dirt tracks and occasional sealed roads he was used to competing on, he relished the challenge of racing in the one-make support series for the Supercars event.
"Dad made his name in rallying and so it was natural that I would enter that field but he has always been a very versatile driver, having competed in circuit racing in Supercars and at Bathurst many times," Bates said.
"I had my first experience in circuit racing in the 86 last year at Sydney Motorsport Park and while some of the skills needed are different, particularly in the really tight wheel-to-wheel action of the 86s, I am really looking forward to having another go.
"It's a highly competitive series and I managed a best result of 11th in Sydney, so I'll be hoping to improve on that. I'm really looking forward to competing in dad's old Celica livery - the car will look really great."
Neal Bates and his long-term co-driver Coral Taylor drove the iconic 2.0-litre turbo all-wheel drive GT-Four to victory in the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) for three years running between 1993 and 1995.
His first win in '93 was in the ST185 Celica before winning the two subsequent years in the ST205, along with the epic Targa Tasmania tarmac rally in 1995.
He sold the ST205 in 1997 when he switched to driving the WRC Corolla but recently bought it back, rebuilt it and drove it to victory in the Modern Classic category in last year's Adelaide Rally tarmac event in December.
Not only did Bates and Taylor win their category racing the car for the first time in 22 years, they set the fastest overall time across 31 stages outpacing more than 300 rivals.
Neal Bates maintains a significant involvement in racing with Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM) providing all the technical support for the 86 Racing Series, in addition to running the NBM rally team with Harry and his younger brother Lewis, who is campaigning a Corolla S2000 in the ARC.
Harry Bates currently sits in 3rd place in the ARC where, together with co-driver John McCarthy, he runs the Toyota Genuine Parts Yaris AP4. But he will have plenty of competition at Sandown with the series having had five different winners in the nine races to date.
Tim Brook who leads the series and dominated all three races in the second outing in Townsville will be hoping to find his winning ways again after the last three races at The Bend in SA saw three first-time winners atop the podium - James Wilkins, Nic Carroll and 15-year-old Broc Feeney.
Also hoping to be high in the points finishes will be Luke King who is only 26 points behind Brook in second place overall and "Mr Consistent" Cameron Crick who trails by a further 30 points in third.
Mid-season leaderboard top ten
|1.||Tim Brook||730 points|
|2.||Luke King||704 points|
|3.||Cameron Crick||674 points|
|4.||Cam Walton||646 points|
|5.||Jaylyn Robotham||588 points|
|6.||Broc Feeney||574 points|
|7.||James Wilkins||560 points|
|8.||Jake Klein||542 points|
|9.||George Gutierrez||520 points|
|10.||Dylan Thomas||516 points|
THE TOYOTA 86 RACING SERIES
The Toyota 86 Racing Series is designed to provide an entry point and training ground for up-and-coming drivers, offering a prize pool of $150,000.
Top-three place rewards for the year are $50,000, $30,000 and $15,000. The coveted Kaizen Award for continuous improvement now includes prizes valued up to $35,000 including a fully funded trip to compete in a round of New Zealand's 86 racing series. The entry fee is $1,500 per round.
Open to variants of Toyota's cult-classic sports car, the series is part of the support program at selected rounds of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
In 2018, the Toyota 86 Racing Series is being run over six events: Phillip Island 500 (April 20-22), Townsville 400 (July 6-8), The Bend Supersprint (August 24-26), Sandown 500 (September 14-16), Bathurst 1000 (October 4-7) and Newcastle 500 (November 23-25).
For regular updates and more information go to https://toyota.com.au/86/racing-series
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