Dowel clinches ARC title at Rally Victoria
- 14th November 2011, 9:02am
The hard charging Justin Dowel and co-driver Matt Lea brought their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo home in second place in the two-day rally behind reigning champ Simon Evans in his Subaru Impreza but that was enough to give Dowel the Championship victory after his Queensland rival Smart faltered within sight of the finish.
Simon Evans partnered by his wife Sue came out of retirement to contest their home event and took an all the way victory in the only rally on the Australian Championship calendar he has never won.
"It was our first Rally Victoria and I have to thank my wife Suzy for the great job she did as co-driver this weekend, it was fantastic and we proved that we have lost nothing despite the year off," said a smiling Evans.
But most attention was on the battle between Dowel and Smart for the championship.
Smart and co driver John Allen led the way for much of the rally and all but had their hands on the trophy only to suffer problems in the closing stages forcing them to concede the Championship to Dowel who finished 1min 21 seconds behind Evans in today's second heat.
Dowel started the rally just three points behind Smart in the Championship standings and a small off in Friday's first heat cost him almost half a minute and nearly ruined his chances for the title. However the Victorian battled back from that setback to secure enough points to beat Smart who eventually limped home in ninth after spending much of the rally in second.
"It's unbelievable, Ryan (Smart) has been the most consistent all year and I feel really sorry for him but I am so pleased for my team, I am so proud that we were able to clinch the Championship, they have been absolutely fantastic this year," said Dowel.
"It has been a really tough year and Ryan has been a really tough opponent and for it to come down to the last few stages of the final round is testament to how tough the championship has been," he added.
It was a devastating blow for Smart who had run his Bosch ARC campaign on a shoe string budget this year and led the series for most of the year only to have his dreams shattered within sight of the goal.
"I don't know what to say, I am just so devastated and gutted, congratulations to Justin for his win, I don't know what I will do now, I have sold the car and might go and buy myself a dirt bike and take a year off," said a clearly upset Ryan Smart.
Twenty-one year old West Australian young gun Tom Wilde brought his ageing Subaru home in third place signalling he is a rising star of the sport and a future champion.
Wilde won the 4WD section of the Rallyschool Australian Junior Rally Challenge earlier in the year and received an all expenses paid entry in Rally Victoria. The WA driver parlayed that into a podium finish and a win in the final Kumho Future Champions award while winner of the 2WD Rallyschool Junior Challenge category Will Orders brought his prize drive home in fourth outright.
Winner of the last round of the series in Coffs Harbour Steve Shepheard and co-driver John McCarthy were lucky to escape unharmed after a heavy rollover in their Mitsubishi, the pair mis-cueing at high speed on the narrow forestry tracks.
The 2011 Championship marks the end of an era with four-wheel-drive turbo cars being phased out from next year in favour of more market relevant two wheel cars.
WA physicist Razvan Vlad won the two wheel drive section of the Championship in his privateer Ford Fiesta after a year long battle with Honda's Eli Evans, who broke a drive shaft and suffered power steering problems on his Civic Type R in the closing stages of the rally but still managed to win the 2WD class at the Victorian event.
Sydney driver Charlie Drake clinched the Premier League category for privateers after a consistent and fast effort all year finishing Rally Victoria in seventh at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Evo.
The Classics saw a Ford Escort RS1800 trifecta with rally legend 1981-82 Australian Champion Geoff Portman piloting his RS1800 to victory partnered by Ross Runnalls ahead of the similar cars of Stewart Reid and Jon Mortimer in second and Grant Walker and Craig Thomas in third.
The focus now swings to the 2012 Bosch ARC which is set to get underway in a little under three months time with the running of the all new Rally Calder scheduled for March 1-4
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