Activ RallySport driver Justin Dowel leads the Australian Rally Championship qualifying Rally Victoria after the first day.

Driving his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, Dowel and co-driver, Matt Lee, won half the day’s stages to take a narrow 0.2 second lead into the final day.

Dowel’s two stage victories today are his first ever gravel stage wins on an Australian Rally Championship round.

The final round of the championship got underway this afternoon in Warragul in Victoria, with four stages totalling a competitive distance of 47 kilometres.

Warm conditions made the stages dry and dusty, and after a successful test session on Wednesday, Dowel shot out of the blocks, recording the second fastest time on the first 22 kilometre stage.

He picked up the pace further on stage two, winning the stage as some of the more fancied rivals dropped off the road and out of contention, including 2010 Australian Rally Champion Simon Evans.

“The car was awesome over the two long forest stages and I was able to get into the groove pretty quickly,” Dowel said.

“I lost my rhythm a bit when I saw Simon (Evans) off the road, but we managed a great time just the same.”

The day finished with two runs around the 1.6 kilometre Super Special Stage at Lardner Park, just outside Warragul, with bad weather threatening.

Dowel won the first stage and moved into a narrow 0.3 second lead, and held off the charge from local favourite, Glen Raymond, to finish the day 0.2 of a second in front.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be leading our home state’s round of the championship,” Dowel added. “Our win in the Akademos Rally last month set us up nicely for this weekend, and we’re just hopeful that we can continue that good form into tomorrow’s stages.”

Co-driver Matt Lee was also happy with the day, citing a good set of pacenotes as part of the reason for their speed.

“We’ve got our best set of pacenotes for a rally ever, and it’s paying off,” Lee said. “We’ve refined our noting system over the last couple of years and we’re really happy with them.

“When the notes work well and the car is running perfectly, then it’s easier for the driver and co-driver to do their bit as well.

“We’re confident of continuing with the same speed tomorrow, but with the rain now falling who knows what the stages will be like in the morning?

Day two of Rally Victoria gets underway early on Saturday morning. Crews face the prospect of 11 special stages, before the finish at Lardner Park at 6.30 tomorrow evening.

Rally Victoria – results after Day 1
1. Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, 32m07.4s
2. Glen Raymond / Matt Raymond, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, +0.2s
3. Mark Pedder / Lee Tierney, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +13.1s
4. Steve Shepheard / John McCarthy, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, +30.4s
5. Leigh Hynes / Stuart Percival, Subaru Impreza WRX, +32.3s
6. Ryan Smart / Rebecca Smart, Toyota Corolla Sportivo, +34.8s
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