Victorian driver Justin Dowel has set a blistering pace to finish third in Heat 1 of Rally South Australia, the fourth round of the 2010 Australian Rally Championship.

Driving his Activ RallySport Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, Dowel and co-driver, Matt Lee, led the rally after the first stage, before settling in to a consistent pace over the heat’s eight special stages.

Held in the beautiful Barossa Valley region of South Australia, the event got underway on Friday night with two 1.5km tarmac stages around the Angaston Showgrounds.

After a successful pre-event test, Dowel was immediately on the pace, setting the fastest time over the opening stage and moving into a slender 0.1 second lead. He backed that up with third place on the repeat run over the stage, to finish the night in second place.

Once the rally moved onto the gravel stages on Saturday morning, his lightening pace continued. He was again third on the opening two forest stages, behind championship leaders Simon Evans and Scott Pedder, to consolidate a third place that he would retain for the remainder of the day.

“It’s been a great day for the team,” Dowel said. “Taking the rally lead at the super special stage last night was awesome, and to back that up today with four third fastest times shows that the testing and development that we’ve done has been very worthwhile.

“I was probably a bit cautious on the first stage this morning, but our plan was to set a comfortable pace and not to worry about what Scott and Simon were doing at the front.

“With Ryan Smart crashing out of the event last night, it meant that Nathan Quinn was our major threat today, but we’ve managed to hold him at bay and finish over half a minute in front of him,” Dowel said.

After pre-event rain, conditions were just about ideal for the 100km of competitive stages today. Aside from Smart’s retirement, there were no other major withdrawals, making Dowel’s third place even more impressive.

“Justin drove incredibly well today,” Matt Lee said. “The ride from the left-hand seat was great, and the work that we put in pre-event, and during Thursday’s reconnaissance, really paid off.

“We had a minor gearbox problem today that hampered the car a little in the higher gears, but aside from that, everything went perfectly.

“The plan now is to repeat the result tomorrow and take that third step on the podium, just as we did in Tasmania at the start of the season.”

The Activ RallySport team changed the gearbox in just 80 minutes at the end-of-day service – the first time they have performed such major maintenance on an ARC round.

“The boys did a tremendous job,” Lee added. “The gearbox was jumping out of fourth and fifth gears, so we decided to change the ‘box as a precaution, and they’ve done it with time to spare.”

Heat 2 of Rally South Australia begins tonight with another two runs around the 1.5km Angaston Showground stage. A further seven gravel stages will be held on Sunday, with Dowel and Lee determined to maintain their position and take their second podium placing of the 2010 season.

Results, Rally South Australia – Heat 1
1. Simon Evans / Sue Evans, Subaru Impreza WRX, 58m12.2s
2. Scott Pedder / Jon Mortimer, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +20.1s
3. Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +1m51.5s
4. Nathan Quinn / David Green, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +2m27.1s
5. Steve Shepheard / Steve O’Brien-Pounde, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +2m54.8s
6. Eli Evans / Glen Weston, Honda Civic Type R, +3m09.4s

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