Neal Bates to drive in Targa Tasmania
TUESDAY, JANUARY 23: Triple Australian Rally Champion Neal Bates will drive a works-assisted Lexus in this year's Targa Tasmania in a bid to win the tarmac rally for the second time. Canberra-based Bates and regular rallying team-mate Coral ...
TUESDAY, JANUARY 23: Triple Australian Rally Champion Neal Bates will drive a works-assisted Lexus in this year's Targa Tasmania in a bid to win the tarmac rally for the second time.
Canberra-based Bates and regular rallying team-mate Coral Taylor will contest the Targa from April 18-24 in the same two-litre normally-aspirated Lexus IS200 in which they finished fourth in 2000.
Bates and Taylor, team-mates for eight years, previously won the Targa in 1995 in a Toyota Celica, and claimed three successive Australian Rally Championship titles for the Japanese manufacturer from 1993-95.
The Lexus they will drive in Targa is being prepared in Bates' Canberra workshop and features modifications to the engine, which generates approximately 200-horsepower, gearbox, differential, and brakes.
Bates said he and Taylor would travel to Tasmania next month and drive the 54 Targa stages over 500km to prepare for the event.
"We will do the course two to three times because there are a few changes this year," said Bates.
"Our pace-notes will cover every corner, crest, and straight – the paperwork will run to several books and hundreds of pages."
Bates said he would be supported by a crew of four at the Targa, and he believes his team's experience in rallying is a major asset.
"Most of the rallying we do is on dirt, but in general terms Targa is similar in many ways and my team are used to this type of competition so that helps," he said.
Bates has contested the Targa five times since 1994 and said that he enjoyed the event as a break in his rallying schedule.
"It's a unique opportunity to drive quickly on various types of roads, and the changes in the terrain make it an interesting challenge for the competitors, teams, and cars," he said.
Bates said his biggest handicap in the Targa was being forced under the event's regulations to race with an intake air-flow restrictor on the rear-drive Lexus, which he estimated resulted in a loss of about 60-horsepower in engine performance.
"The restrictor makes it hard to compete against some of the Porsches and other cars with bigger engine capacity, but it's something we have to live with," said Bates.
"At the same time the Lexus is a great car on the tight stages and stops incredibly well, and that's why we were able to run as high as second last year and finish in the top four."
Bates' other commitments this year include driving a works Toyota in the Australian Rally Championship, and the Australian rounds of the World Rally Championship in West Australia, and the Asia-Pacific Championship near Canberra.
The Manager Public Relations for Toyota Australia and Lexus Australia, Mike Breen, said that Bates' team would prepare two other cars for Targa.
They are a 2001 Toyota MR2 Spyder, to be driven by Rick Bates and Network Ten journalist Alison Drower, and a Lexus IS200 for Network Ten executives David White and Scott Young.
Bates and Drower finished 29th in Targa in 2000 in a Toyota Celica. The 1.8-litre Spyder they will drive this year was launched in Australia in November 2000, and features a sequential gear-change. White and Young also contested Targa in 2000, finishing 35th in a Lexus IS200.
Breen said in the two days before the start of Targa (April 16-17), selected media would take part in a preview drive of the new Lexus IS300 in Strahan.
Targa Tasmania boss Mark Perry admits the tarmac rally faces an uncertain future off the back of a fourth death in two events on Wednesday.