Harry Bates is a young man in a hurry.
A son of iconic multiple national rally titleholder Neal Bates, he was the find of last year’s Australian championship – finishing a close third to Molly Taylor.
A last round flat tyre ended his title hopes in his first full season of rallying.
“Our season was amazing. To be in a tussle for the national title at the final event was beyond what I expected. It was so close and yet so far.” Bates said.
Bates lines up in the Eureka Rally – the opening event of the 2017 Australian Rally Championship – in Ballarat on Saturday and Sunday as one of the major contenders for the first round and season honours.
He will be at the wheel of a rebuilt Corolla four-wheel-drive, originally developed by Toyota Australia/Neal Bates Motorsport for the 2008 championship.
Bates is expected to have his toughest opposition in the Eureka Rally from Taylor and multiple national champion Eli Evans.
“It will be an interesting battle.
“Eli has a new car and I think it will be quick,” Bates said.
He said with Taylor also having a new car he expected her to be pushing for the win as well.”
The Ballarat rally will be a big one for the Bates family all round, with Harry’s younger brother Lewis making his debut.
Evans Motorsport team will debut Australia’s first new rally car built to the AP4 specifications, a Mini Cooper.
“We could have run a Citroen, Peugeot or a Mini, but we thought the Mini was cool,” Eli Evans said.
“It is something different and it has a bit of a cult following that we hope to bring to rallying.”
The car started life in Australia before being stripped to a chassis and shipped to New Zealand for Force Motorsport to modify to meet the new AP4 regulations.
Evans has installed a 1.6 litre turbo-charged engine and while expectations are high he is unsure what the outcome might be.
“I’ve got so many unknowns. I’m up against it, but that’s what excites me. I feel I have done the two-wheel drive thing, had great success and it’s time to move on.”
The 220km Eureka Rally marks the return of the Australian championship to Ballarat for the first time in 46 years.
Spectators will get their first look at the 50-plus cars engaged in the event in a ceremonial start in the Bridge Mall on Friday from 5pm.
The first of two days of racing begins from rally headquarters in Victoria Park, which has been open since Tuesday, on Saturday at 8.30am. Racing on Sunday starts at 8am.