Bates ready to return to defend Eureka Rally title

WINNERS: Harry Bates and John McCarthy celebrate last year's victory in the Eureka Rally.

WINNERS: Harry Bates and John McCarthy celebrate last year's victory in the Eureka Rally.

The winner of last year’s inaugural Eureka Rally is set to defend his victory in 2018.

Harry Bates has confirmed he will be returning to the Victorian round of the Australian Rally Championship in a new car.

Bates, with John McCarthy in the co-driver’s seat, became the youngest ever ARC round winner when he took out the 2017 Eureka Rally at the age of 22 years.

The pair will be focused on further developing the Neal Bates Motorsport’s Toyota Yaris AP4 at next month’s The Courier Eureka Rally, which debuted at the 2017 Lightforce Rally SA in September.

Harry Bates' car last year

Harry Bates' car last year

Despite the Yaris showing promising raw speed, Bates experienced teething issues at both Lightforce Rally SA and Rally Australia. This resulted in retirements at both events.

His father, rally legend Neal Bates, will have a full dance card in 2018.

He is also running Harry’s younger brother Lewis in the ARC in the team’s Toyota Corolla Super 2000.

Lewis made a successful debut in the S2000 Corolla – his first foray in a four-wheel-drive rally car – at Rally Australia in November last year.

Neal won the Australian Rally Championship in the car in 2008 and Harry has campaigned the S2000 since 2015.

Lewis competed in Ballarat last year, where his Toyota Corolla caught alight and was destroyed.

He beached his car on a gravel bank and was unable to get back on the road, with the heat from the exhaust igniting the dry undergrowth and then his vehicle.

A brand new stage near Scarsdale will form part of the 2018 Eureka Rally, which gets underway on March 3.

The new section of the race will incorporate bitumen road through Devils Kitchen, some shire lanes and private property.

It will include old overgrown roads from gold mining days that cross the Woady Yallock Creek and traverse the mullock heaps of the former Galatea mine, as well as narrow farm access tracks and driveways.

The event will see competitors race across six forest stages and two shire road stages, which will be run twice.

In total, there will be more than 200 competitive kilometres of racing.

Four of the stages are the same as 2017, while three retain elements from last year.

The service park and rally office will be located at the Ballarat Airport.

Competition will begin on Saturday morning, March 3, in Sturt Street and conclude the following day.

After the Eureka Rally, the six-round ARC series moves to Western Australia for the Forest Rally in late April and then the National Capital Rally in the ACT during early June.