Triple Victorian rally champion, Justin Dowel, has once again impressed in the Australian Rally Championship, securing 5th outright in the Sprint Auto Parts Rally South Australia.  Together with co-driver Matt Lee, the pair powered and jumped their Active Seal supported Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX through 220km of the fastest rally roads in the country.

Strong results over both days of the event saw Dowel strengthen his position in the championship point standings to 7th, a mere three points behind Michael Guest in 5th position.  The result also solidified the team’s position at the top of their P5 class standings for modified 4WD turbo rally cars.

The result is a great boost for Dowel and his totally privateer team, Activ Rallysport, following an indifferent few months where simple, yet unusual, mechanical dramas had undermined outright speed.

The event, held in South Australia’s picturesque Barossa Valley, threw a mixed bag of conditions in front of crews, including night time tarmac super special stages, sub zero temperatures, rain, hail and snow storms and 180km/h blind crests. The team’s Lancer revelled in the conditions as Dowel established himself as a true challenger for outright contention, gradually extending the gap between many established and experience privateers and closing the gap to the factory supported teams ahead.

“Our attitude to this rally was totally different to anything we had done previously,” Dowel said.  “In previous rallies we always concentrated on strong, yet safe finishes. This event was all about stepping up and focusing on reducing the gap between us and the pointy end of the field. We’ve begun to achieve our goal as we reduce the speed difference between us and Simon (Evans) and are now within 1.5sec per km of winning a stage.”

The week prior to the event saw vast improvements made to the power delivery and response of the car as the team worked closely with technical partner Lee Burley from Melbourne Performance Centre. Wednesday testing also saw gains made from fine tuning of suspension to work better with the softer compound of Pirelli tyres chosen for the event.

The event was not without its challenges, with co-driver Matt Lee struggling to retain his voice for the duration of the event, and a number of the car’s panels succumbing to small brushes with the scenery as Dowel pushed outside his comfort zone.

Dowel remained buoyant however: “The great result for us is that we know where we still have improvements to make - it’s just a matter of time before we can take another step up to outright contention. We have improved with each rally this year and are learning different things that we can apply next year with both car set-up and our driving lines. I just can’t wait to get back into the car and attack!”

Focus now shifts to the fifth round of the ARC, for the first ever time held as a full tarmac rally in Tasmania over the weekend of October 4 to 5.

Photo: Hubble Photographix

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