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Activ RallySport have made their rivals in the Australian Rally Championship sit up and take notice after Justin Dowel and Matt Lee finished third outright in Heat 2 of the Rally of Canberra today.

Driving their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, the Victorian pair backed up their fourth place from Heat 1 and finished the weekend fourth overall – missing a podium placing by just seven seconds.

The result also rockets them up to fourth in the Australian Rally Championship, a rise of four places from the eighth place they held going into the weekend.

“We’re very, very happy,” a delighted Justin Dowel said at the end of the arduous two-day event. “I think we really made a step up today. We found more speed over the four stages in the second heat, so now we just need to improve our consistency.”

Dowel’s stage times were only one second per kilometre slower than rally winner Simon Evans, a huge improvement on the three seconds per kilometre that he trailed the two-time national champion by on some events last year.

“The car, the team, Matt calling the pacenotes – the whole package is now coming together. I’ve been able to drive with more commitment to the pacenotes and drive at maximum attack.

“If it wasn’t for a couple of spins and overshoots this weekend we would have secured that third place for the round. But we’re stoked just the same.”

The result is even more impressive given that two days before the rally Dowel and Lee were hanging upside down in their seatbelts after a testing accident dented every panel on the car.

Every panel except the roof was replaced, and the Activ RallySport team, headed by John Down, and with the help of Neal Bates Motorsport, performed a brilliant job to get the Lancer to the start line. That it ran perfectly for the entire event is testimony to the team.

“The car was fantastic all weekend. It’s the best it’s ever been,” Dowel added. “The conditions were tough; it was very rough and incredibly dusty, but I loved every minute of it. The 30 kilometre stage in the Kowen Forest today was probably the best 30 kays I’ve ever done.”

Co-driver, Matt Lee, agreed. “We’re really, really happy with how the weekend went. After the way it started in testing we didn’t have high hopes, but to come away from Canberra with our first podium finish in a Heat, fourth outright and fourth in the championship is more than we could have hoped for a couple of days ago.”

Dust during the second day of the Rally of Canberra wasn’t as much of a problem as it had been on day one. Cars ran at three-minute intervals for the majority of the day, negating the problem for most crews.

Team Engineer, John Down, was naturally happy with the performance after such a harrowing start to the weekend.

“It really is a great reward for the team after all the hard work and long hours that they put in before the rally,” Down said. “It gives us a great springboard heading into the next round in Western Australia in four weeks time.”

Crews in the Australian Rally Championship cross the Nullarbor for round three of the national series, the QUIT Forest Rally, to be held in Bunbury, south of Perth, on April 4 and 5. The Activ RallySport team finished fourth in WA last year, and after their strong showing in Canberra, they’re already looking forward to the challenge.

NEWS FROM OUR RIVALS

Simon Evans took a second consecutive heat win to take a comprehensive victory in his new Lancer Evo IX. Evans and his co-driving wife, Sue, again out-paced former team-mates Neal Bates and Coral Taylor to take a 24.1 second victory.

An early driveshaft problem for the Raymond brothers, Glen and Matt, cost them time which they never recovered, and they finished fourth, well clear of the brand new Lancer Evo X of Queenslander Steven Shepheard in fifth place.

2009 RALLY OF CANBERRA
Heat 2 Results

1.    Simon Evans / Sue Evans, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, 57m06.9
2.    Neal Bates / Coral Taylor, Toyota Corolla S2000, +24.1s
3.    Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +1m34.0s
4.    Glen Raymond / Matt Raymond, Toyota Corolla Sportivo, +1m39.7s
5.    Steven Shepheard / John McCarthy, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, +3m27.1s
6.    Brett Kipling / Darren Masters, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +4m14.9s

ARC Pointscore after two rounds (of six)

1.    Simon Evans / Sue Evans, 151 points
2.    Neal Bates / Coral Taylor, 146
3.    Glen Raymond / Matt Raymond, 104
4.    Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, 86
5.    Eli Evans / Chris Murphy, 60
6.    Brendan Reeves / Rhianon Smyth, 45
7.    Michael Boaden / Helen Cheers, 42
8.    Spencer Lowndes / Chris Randell, 39
9.    Dean Herridge / Glen Weston, 38

Photo: Joel Strickland

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