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The Activ RallySport team of Justin Dowel and Matt Lee begin their 2009 Australian Rally Championship campaign in Tasmania this weekend, and the Melbourne duo are hoping to kick their season off in fine style.

After a successful 2008 rally season, the privateer team head into the national championship confident of being able to consistently finish in the top five in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.

Dowel and Lee started last year with a podium finish in the first event in Western Australia, but with this year’s Australian Rally Championship (ARC) commencing in Tasmania, and on tarmac, they are well aware of the challenges that await them.

In 2008 they suffered an event-ending accident in the pre-event shakedown in Tasmania, so their tarmac rally experience is limited. However, after a successful test session this week, they are confident of being able to master the twisting tarmac roads around Burnie, on the state’s north west coast.

“Last year the rally was held in very wet conditions, and unfortunately we didn’t get to do any of the stages,” team driver, Justin Dowel, said.

“But we had an invaluable test session on Wednesday, and the car’s going really well. We were able to iron out a few bugs, and build up our confidence, so now we can’t wait for the event to get underway on Friday afternoon.”

Dowel and Lee completed around 50 kilometres of testing over the 2.2 kilometre test stage, with very few changes needing to be made to the Lancer Evo IX. The car has been set-up for tarmac conditions, meaning that different suspension and brakes have had to be fitted.

The Lancer will run under the Production Rally Car regulations for Rally Tasmania.

“We’ve fitted bigger brakes, so the car should and stop a lot better,” Dowel added. “Combined with the Ohlins tarmac suspension, it’s a great package. We’re also using the WRC-spec Pirelli tarmac tyres, which are fantastic.”

Lee Burley from Melbourne Performance Centre has the engine tuned perfectly for this weekend’s event, leaving the team eager for the action to get underway.

With fine weather forecast for this weekend, and temperatures of around 21 degrees, conditions will be ideal for rallying. The pre-event reconnaissance, where crews make detailed safety notes of the course, went well for the team, and they are excited about driving on the famed Tasmanian roads.

“The stages are awesome – real driver’s roads,” co-driver Matt Lee said. “The faster stages should really suit our car well, while the narrower roads will probably suit the lighter Super 2000 cars a lot more.

“We completed three passes over all the stages to be used, and we’re confident that we have made a really good set of pacenotes that will help us to push hard for a good result.”

The Activ RallySport team know that their number one aim for Rally Tasmania is to get to the finish and score a good haul of points in the first of six rounds of the ARC.

“Most of our rivals have quite a bit of tarmac experience, so that puts us at a disadvantage,” Lee says. “But after we complete the initial three stages on Friday afternoon we’ll know how fast our speed is, and where we sit in the scheme of things.”

The event is wide open, and any one of eight drivers could conceivably take victory at the end of the three-day, 217 kilometre event.

Neal Bates and Simon Evans, in factory-backed Toyota Corollas, are expected to set the pace, however a host of drivers will be snapping at their heels, including Dowel and Lee.

“Of course a podium finish would be the ideal start to the season, but we have to be realistic as well,” Dowel explained. “With no spare car and only three weeks to get the car ready for the next event in Canberra, we have to make sure that we finish in one piece.”

“But having said that, our aim is to be competitive and try to match it with fellow privateers like Glen Raymond (Toyota), Spencer Lowndes (Mitsubishi) and Brendan Reeves (Subaru).”

Activ RallySport are being supported by Activ Laundry Liquid, who have remained onboard as a key sponsor for the team for 2009.

Rally Tasmania is made up of 19 stages. After three stages on Friday, Saturday and Sunday contain eight stages each. The event finishes in the centre of Burnie on Sunday afternoon.

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