Toyota has decided not to place a manufacturer's entry in this year's Australian Rally Championship.
The three times manufacturers' title-holder has left the door open for its rally team principal, National Drivers' Champion Neal Bates, and other team members to enter the drivers' championship without works support.
Toyota has appointed Bates as a company ambassador with a range of opportunities to represent it in the community.
The decision not to enter the championship had not been taken lightly, Toyota senior executive director Dave Buttner said.
Toyota has been the longest standing manufacturer supporter of the Australian Rally Championship in the series' 41-year history.
It has entered the championship successively since 1990 and has won the manufacturers' title three times. Its drivers have won it six times.
Neal Bates has full use and ownership of Toyota's rally team, including its world-leading S2000 Corollas that in 2008 became the first S2000 cars in the world to win a national rally title.
"Neal is a legend for Toyota and in Australian motorsport," Dave Buttner said.
"In appointing Neal an ambassador we have indicated our desire to continue our 20 year relationship."
Neal Bates was discovered by Toyota in a unique Star Search program in 1989, run as part of the Australian Touring Car Championship.
He was chosen over eight under-25 year-old motorsport aspirants, each of whom raced a works Toyota Corolla in one round of the national series.
Bates went on to win his class in the Bathurst 1000 that year with fellow Star Search driver Michael Dowson.
Within two years Bates was competing in the Australian Rally Championship in a Toyota Celica with Toyota support.
He and co-driver Coral Taylor won the national title in 1993, '94 and '95 in a Celica, and then won it again last year in the S2000 Corolla that was designed and built by Bates with Toyota backing.
Teammates Simon and Sue Evans were third in last year's title after winning it the previous two years in a Group N (Prototype) Corolla.
Mr Buttner said Toyota's decision had been made to enable the company to best service its employees and its customers.
"The decision was made incredibly difficult because there was emotion, enthusiasm and friendship involved," Mr Buttner said.
"It is not a reflection on the performance of Neal Bates and his team and it is important to recognise the brilliant contribution made by every team member," he said.
"Toyota has won the Australian Rally Championship for the last three years as a manufacturer and its drivers - Neal and Coral and Simon and Sue - have won it as competitors.
"In that respect there could not be a better position from which to make decisions for the future.
"We wish both crews the best of good fortune in their future."
Leave a comment