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Did we also mention sideways, scary and sensational? Probably not but, then again, the Corolla we are talking about is nothing like the $20,990 showroom success you will find at your local Toyota dealer.

This one has true supercar performance, speed on any surface and the ability to tame the toughest roads and rivals in the Australian Rally Championship. It also costs about $150,000.

The hand-built Corolla has carried Simon and Sue Evans to an unbeaten string of wins this year on their way to back-to-back successes in the championship. It has also delivered a second straight manufacturers' title to Toyota and its rally boss, Neal Bates.

Officially, the car is called a Group N(P) Corolla. Unofficially, it is a Celica GT-4 stuffed inside a Corolla body.

To turn the Corolla from a sensible small car into an outrageous rally champion, Bates and his Canberra-based engineering team returned to the days when Toyota ruled rallying and snitched the go-fast stuff from the Celica, its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and the basics of its all-wheel-drive system and five-speed manual gearbox.

It took a lot more tweaking, with local developments in the electronics, driveline, brakes and suspension.

But the Bates team came up with a car to go head to head with the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer in rallying.

There is only one way to really see how it goes, and that is to strap yourself into the TRD Toyota team's spare car; identical to the Evans Corolla; for an inside look at the recent NGK Rally of Melbourne.

This is the final round of the 2007 title series and is run on high-speed gravel roads in the Yarra Valley.

There are two days of competition, with 48 crack crews. There are the two serious TRD Corollas driven by Evans and Bates, two Ford Fiesta entries for Michael Guest and Darren Windus, and a raft of privateers led by Spencer Lowndes in a Lancer.

The Corolla experience begins two days before the Friday start at Docklands with a quick sprint at a TRD test day. The Corolla fits perfectly, as you'd expect from a custom-made carbon fibre bucket seat, fully adjustable steering wheel and five-point safety belts.

The turbo engine lights up from very low revs, the all-wheel-drive system fires the car between corners, and it rides over rough roads as if they are freeway-smooth bitumen.

Evans is wickedly quick. Bates is fast in an all-new Corolla; with new body, non-turbo engine and special gearbox. He is developing it for a full-on attack next year. When the rally begins on the special stage near Yarra Glen, the fast guys are gone and we; myself and co-driver Anne Gigney; are back in the pack.

It feels as if the Corolla is courting disaster, sliding sideways at more than 130km/h and dancing through all sorts of corners and firing up-and-down on narrow forest tracks.

But the TRD terror is never threatened. Evans is going at least two seconds quicker for every kilometre, so the guest car is barely working. Just like driving the Corolla ARC.

It is clearly a Corolla but, just like a V8 Supercar, the mechanical changes mean it is only the body that stays the same. Everything else is upgraded and more responsive and far, far more enjoyable.

The Corolla is supercar-quick in a straight line, has mighty brakes and grippy Michelin tyres, and turns as if it is driving on bitumen. Until you tickle the throttle and set it sideways. Shortcomings? It is obviously noisy beyond anything acceptable in a regular road car. It is hot and dusty, with no airconditioning, no luggage space and seats that grip great but are not very comfortable.

It is also thirsty. It sucks $3-a-litre Elf racing fuel like a hungry V8.

But the Corolla ARC proves what can be done with smart minds, focused thinking and a TRD Toyota parts bin that makes a mundane car into something very special.

 

 

Paul Gover
Paul Gover is a former CarsGuide contributor. During decades of experience as a motoring journalist, he has acted as chief reporter of News Corp Australia. Paul is an all-round automotive expert and specialises in motorsport.
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