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Activ RallySport driver, Justin Dowel, has continued the development of his Volkswagen Polo Vivio at last weekend's Coates Hire Rally Australia at Coffs Harbour.

After an injury interrupted season, this was only Dowel's second event in the car this year, as he builds towards a full assault on the 2014 Australian Rally Championship (ARC) - a title he won back in 2011.

Together with experienced co-driver, Sue Evans, Dowel was hoping for a strong performance in the three-day event, but an unknown problem after the first Super Special Stage forced them to miss the second running of the test, and saw them incur a 10 minute penalty.

"The car ran perfectly on the first stage, but when we lined up for the second stage the engine was running on two cylinders and there was a constant flame coming out the exhaust," Dowel said.

"Rather than risk blowing the engine, we decided to drive the car back to the service park, but by the time we arrived the car was running perfectly again and the problem seemed to have rectified itself."

While the Activ RallySport team went over the VW thoroughly, they still don't know the exact cause of the misfire, but believe it may have been a blocked exhaust or a problem with the catalytic converter, which they then replaced.

With the car running well again, Dowel and Evans set off on Friday's dusty gravel stages, although with a 10 minute penalty, the Victorian admitted that it was difficult to sustain his motivation in the early parts of the event.

"To be honest, I drove terribly on the first two days of the event and I got back in to a few old habits of trying to drive the front-wheel drive car like a four-wheel drive," he said.

"It wasn't working, so I called Simon (Evans) and had a chat to him, then put in to play what he suggested and our times improved from then on."

The VW was a real crowd favourite at Rally Australia and was widely recognised as the best sounding car in the event, and while it dropped some horsepower on Saturday afternoon's stages, Dowel was happy with its performance.

"The car is awesome to drive. The brakes are great and it handles really well.

"We probably need another 40 or 50 horsepower to be competitive against the Hondas and Renaults, and the steering is a bit slow and heavy, but we have some time to work on those things before the start of next season.

"This car is now four or five years old, so we'll replace the wiring loom and do a few other modifications before next season."

Rally Australia was also a round of the World Rally Championship, and as a result the roads were dry and dusty, and cut up quite badly in places. However, Dowel said the roads chosen for the event were fantastic, with some fast stages, and some extremely technical ones as well.

"Despite only finishing eighth in the ARC event, we have plenty to work on," he stressed.

"We're about two and a half seconds per kilometre off the pace of the leading ARC cars at the moment. Half of that is down to the car, and the other half is down to me.

"With Rally Victoria coming up in November, that gives us another chance to test the car in competition, before setting our sights on 2014."

Victory in Rally Australia was taken by the Honda of Eli Evans and Glen Weston, which secured them the 2013 ARC title.

Photo: Luke Whitten

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