A Yaris? A Toyota Yaris? Why would you rally a Toyota Yaris? That's probably what you're thinking. Ask the team at Neal Bates Motorsport, though, and the humble little Japanese runabout is the future of rallying in Australia.
Whether you follow the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) or not, the facts are, this year’s title race is a close one.
Harry (pictured below) is the 22-year-old son of four-time Australian Rally Champion – and local rally icon – Neal Bates, while Molly is the daughter of Neal Bates’s long-time co-driver Coral Taylor. Funny, right?
Anyway, at last weekend’s 2017 Rally South Australia, Harry and the ACT-based Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM) team – led by Neal Bates, Coral Taylor, and NBM technical director Darryl Bush – officially debuted their brand-new competition car: a Toyota Yaris.
Not just any old Toyota Yaris, Harry’s new ‘baby beast’ is a purpose-built AP4-specification Yaris, designed solely to give Harry the best chance of taking out an ARC title and, potentially, help him reach his goal of competing in the World Rally Championship (WRC).
Replacing Harry’s previous four-wheel-drive Super 2000-spec Toyota Corolla – a car his father has been hammering through rally stages since 2008 – the brand-new Yaris is the real deal, and a car both Harry and Neal believe is where rallying in this country is headed.
“For me it’s just cool to have driven both cars,” Harry tells us.
“You know, the Corolla S2000’s amazing in some areas, and a really, really cool thing, and quite unique with its sound and high-revving [naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine] – you don’t have that with rally cars anymore. But, you know, this [new Yaris] is just kind of on another level.”
To fully understand and appreciate exactly what goes into building a cutting-edge rally car, we put Harry’s brand-new AP4-spec Toyota Yaris side-by-side with a bog-stock flagship 2017 Toyota Yaris ZR, to better see just how different the rally car is from its road-car equivalent.
Now, you may have already noticed that while the Inferno Orange 2017 Toyota Yaris ZR pictured has four doors, the NBM Toyota Yaris rally car only has two. That’s because the Neal Bates Motorsport AP4 Yaris is technically based on a 2013 three-door Toyota Yaris.
“It made it a little bit lighter, that’s probably the main reason,” Harry explains, “And it also just makes it a little more serviceable.”
Tipping the scales at 1055kg, the standard ZR Yaris measures in at 3945mm long and 1695mm wide.
Required to meet strict regulations, the AP4-spec Yaris weighs a mandated minimum of 1230kg. And, although it’s an identical length to the road car, the rally car is far from being the same width.
“With the regulations, we’re allowed to run a wider track, and the body width is allowed to be 1820mm,” Bates says.
“So when you take a standard Yaris – which is quite a narrow body – and put flares on it, you get something pretty exciting.”
Also making Harry’s Yaris “pretty exciting” is its powerplant.
Pop down to your local Toyota dealership and buy yourself a new ZR Yaris, and you’ll soon be in charge of a naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre 1NZ-FE four-cylinder engine, pumping out a monstrous 80kW of power and 141Nm of torque.
Under the bonnet of the Bates-built Yaris though, things are a little different.
Here you’ll find a de-stroked 1.6-litre version of Toyota’s naturally-aspirated 1.8-litre 2ZZ-GE four-cylinder engine. But, with a Garrett 2860 turbo strapped to it, plus help from a Motec engine control unit (ECU) and a Bosch fuel system, the bespoke engine spits out 224kW of power and 420Nm of torque – that’s almost three times the power and three times the torque you get in a standard Yaris, and that’s despite the rally car still being limited by a 34mm turbo restrictor plate.
“[It’s] a bit of a difference, but we feel like that will give us the competitive edge against our rivals in the forest,” Harry says.
Interestingly enough, despite the rally car’s force-fed nature, both the standard and AP4-spec Yaris run the same 10.5:1 compression ratio.
Obviously though, with the sort of mega-mumbo on board the NBM Yaris, some other key elements had to be changed.
That means out with the standard car’s front-wheel-drive layout and four-speed automatic transmission, and in with an all-wheel-drive system, Sadev front and rear differentials, and a Sadev six-speed sequential transmission.
A custom 2.75-inch exhaust was also fitted, along with a custom PWR front-mounted intercooler.
Both cars feature hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering, however, the standard Yaris’s MacPherson strut front/Torsion beam rear suspension setup has been replaced by independent MacPherson struts front and rear, with MCA coil springs and remote-reservoir dampers fitted to each corner.
Further, the road car’s front ventilated disc brakes and rear drums have been scrapped for big-boy four-piston AP Racing calipers and 300mm slotted discs all around. The AP4 Yaris also scores a Sadev hydraulic handbrake, to ensure maximum and immediate ‘slideability’.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two Yarii (?) both roll on 15-inch alloy wheels, although, the rally car has been equipped with 7.0-inch-wide Speedline rims and 205/65 MRF gravel tyres, instead of the road car’s 5.5-inch-wide alloys and 175/65 Bridgestone street tyres.
As handy and convenient as the road-going Yaris’s standard climate-control air conditioning, cruise control, rear-view camera, satellite navigation, and six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity all are, such luxuries have made way for Racetech bucket seats, six-point Sabelt harnesses, and a custom chrome-moly roll cage.
“We moved the seating position back for the driver and the co-driver [too] to work on weight distribution and get everything a bit further back,” Harry tells us.
“Our eventual goal is to have the car at 50:50 weight [distribution] front to rear.”
You may have also noticed the AP4 Yaris’s 330mm Sabelt steering wheel is on the ‘wrong’ side of the car.
This was an intentional move by the team at Neal Bates Motorsport to get Harry that little bit more familiar and comfortable with a left-hand-drive car, given that’s the norm when it comes to rallying in Europe and around the world.
"Once we have this car sorted, it will be something special, that's for sure," Harry says.
"Every time I drive it, I feel more comfortable and see more potential."
As fascinating as comparing a standard road car to a rally car is, there was one final point we simply had to find out about: price.
So, given a brand-new third-generation 2017 Toyota Yaris ZR starts at $22,470 (before on-road costs), what sort of outlay are we talking for Harry’s Aussie-built AP4 special?
Well, when asked what sort of cost he’d attach to his son’s freshly-built little pocket rocket, Neal Bates responds with a somewhat conservative, “Ten times the cost of a standard Yaris.”
And if you think around $220,000 is a lot for a Toyota Yaris, bear in mind that a current 280kW/425Nm 2017-spec Toyota Yaris WRC car would be close to five times that again.
Regardless, as Harry Bates’s co-driver John McCarthy so excellently summed it up, “jeez it looks cool.” And I couldn’t agree with him more.
Unfortunately for Harry and John – and all the crew at Neal Bates Motorsport – Rally South Australia wasn’t kind to the brand-new Toyota Yaris on its debut, with technical problems forcing the car to only be able to compete in one stage of the two-day rally, resulting in the boys scoring zero points for the round.
Although Harry’s disappointing showing in South Australia handed the lead of the 2017 Australian Rally Championship over to defending champion Molly Taylor, and her Subaru WRX STI, all is not lost, with the final round of the ARC season – November’s Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour – now poised to be a proper battle royale for this year’s driver’s title.
Note: CarAdvice would like to extend a huge thank you to Harry Bates, John McCarthy, and all the team at Neal Bates Motorsport – especially Neal Bates and Coral Taylor – for all their time and assistance. We wish you all the luck for the remainder of the 2017 ARC season.
Click on the Photos tab above for more Neal Bates Motorsport Toyota Yaris AP4 images.
Listen to David Zalstein talk to Harry Bates's co-driver John McCarthy below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.