Simon Evans is one of Australia's most popular drivers because of his on-the-limit style and next weekend he will be letting it all hang out in a classic Datsun Stanza in the Classic Rally of Otago. Catherine Pattison finds out more about the four-time Australian Rally Champion.
Not surprisingly Simon Evans loves cars and is just as happy in modern machinery as he is in a classic.
‘‘I love driving all sorts of vehicles. If it's got an engine I'll race it,'' he said.
His glory years were spent as a factory driver for Toyota and he won two of his four national championships in a Corolla (2006, 2007) before switching to a Mitsubishi Evo 9 (2009 title) and then moving on again to a Subaru Impreza WRX STi (2010).
He can almost lay claim to a couple of V8 Super Tourer titles as well, sharing a name with one of New Zealand's top circuit racers. Do people confuse him for the Kiwi Simon Evans?
‘‘Yes, all the time. People always congratulate me on my V8 performances and I thank them very much. I hope it works the same for your Simon Evans.''
Making the decision to enter the Otago Rally for the first time, in his compatriot Darren Snook's powerful Datsun, was easy, Evans said.
The chance to race against ‘‘some of the legends of world rallying and, of course, the magnificent roads around Dunedin'' were enticing reasons to cross The Ditch, he said.
Joining him will be seven other Australians in the classic rally. Among them are regular attendees Keith Callinan and his co-driving wife Mary Anne, plus Ed Mulligan in his BMW 325i.
Evans will be using the opening stages of the 14-stage event to make his acquaintance with the Datsun, in which he has done only a few kilometres of testing, at fellow Australian rally driver Brendon Reeves' family property a couple of weeks ago.
Don't worry, spectators, there is no chance that this means Victoria's Evans will be taking it easy.
‘‘I like to drive flat out. I think it's where I perform better. I know it can cause issues and people like to say that I'm over-driving but if I was to go spectating that's what I want to see, not people driving to finish at a conservative pace,'' he said.
Don't expect him to throw in the towel if the Stanza gets a few dented panels, either.
‘‘I never give up. Even when the car has heavy damage I'll drive flat out to achieve the best possible result.''
Evans reckoned a better time to ask him how he thinks he will do on debut at Otago would be halfway through the first day. He is, however, certain about his main rivals: ‘‘everyone in an Escort''.
‘‘My aims would be to do the best I can. It's a pretty impressive field and there's a lot of experienced people on these roads,'' he said.
He has not competed against last year's classic winner, Markko Martin, before but the Estonian is in the Escort club, driving a RS 1800, as is second seed Regan Ross, of Kaikoura. And so, too, is the always-fast fourth seed, Gore driver Derek Ayson, in his Nissan-powered Ford Escort Mk 2.
Sandwiched in between them is Marcus van Klink in his potent Mazda RX7, and with Evans fifth to run on the road it should be a tight battle between the Kiwis and the internationals all the way to the finish flags on Sunday.
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