27 March 2001
LIGHTER, FASTER TOYOTA TEAM READY FOR ARC
Toyota rally star Neal Bates is hopeful that an off-season vehicle weight reduction program, new tyres and continued suspension development will give him the edge in this year's Australian Rally Championship.
Three-time Australian champions Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor enter the opening round of the championship near Perth (March 31-April 1) convinced their Corolla World Rally Car is better prepared than it has ever been for the start of a season.
The Corolla has been completely rebuilt from the ground up, with the Neal Bates Motorsport engineers trimming a significant 30 kilograms of weight from the car.
"For the first time since it was built, the car is right down to the 1230kg minimum limit," said Bates.
The Corolla should also have more grip following recent tyre and suspension testing programs.
Neal Bates' team has continued its fruitful collaboration with Ohlins on shock absorbers and suspension set-up - work that last year yielded a noticeable performance improvement.
New compounds and tread patterns developed by Michelin have also provided tyres better suited to Australian gravel conditions.
Bates said the tyre testing helped him learn a lot more about the different tyres available to him this year, experience that will stand him in good stead as the season progresses.
The Toyota driver admits that the Perth round is his least favourite rally on the ARC calendar, saying the loose, "ball bearing" gravel does not entirely suit his driving style.
Despite this he has a strong record there, and finished second in the event last year.
"In general I think we're going to Perth with a much better setup than this time last year," said Bates. "I'm raring to go!" The Toyota team of Bates and Taylor go into the championship fight as underdogs for the driver's and navigator's titles.
They know they will face even tougher competition than usual from arch-rival Possum Bourne, who has updated to a new car.
Bates, however, is undeterred.
"Realistically we're the underdogs, but I quite like that," he said. "I think we can win, and I would like nothing more than to take the title in the Corolla's final year in the ARC."
Neal Bates and Coral Taylor in their Toyota Corolla World Rally Car - lighter and better for 2001.