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2011 Australian Rally Champions, Justin Dowel and Matt Lee, will contest next week’s National Capital Rally, but not in the Vokswagen Polo that they had originally planned.

Instead, the Activ RallySport duo will drive a classic Nissan 240RS in the first round of the Australian Rally Championship, after a training accident saw Dowel fracture his collarbone.

The eight to 12 week recuperation period will mean that the Victorian won’t contest an ARC round in the VW until round five or six.

“It’s extremely frustrating, and certainly not the ideal start to the year,” Dowel said.

“I’d been training really hard in preparation for this year’s ARC, but the accident has thrown those plans into disarray.

“Initially I thought we would have to miss the National Capital Rally altogether, as the accident was only two weeks ago and I couldn’t even raise my arm over my shoulder.

“However, rather than not drive at all, we’ve purchased a Nissan 240RS (from fellow competitor, Darryn Snooks), so at least we’ll still be there with a much more casual attitude.”

An avid fan of classic rallying, Dowel had been hoping to get involved in this form of the sport for some time, although this wasn’t the way he had hoped to do it.

He has a Ford Escort sitting in his workshop, but as that car is still some way from being completed, the Nissan was the next best option.

“Since we made the decision we’ve been spending a lot of time getting the 240RS ready for competition, but unfortunately I’m unlikely to drive the car in anger until the start of the first stage,” he added.

“And I’m certainly not going in to the event with any expectations. For a start, the competition in the classics is very tough, with guys of the calibre of Neal Bates, Jeff David and Barry Lowe. I’d expect it would take me at least a couple of events to get on the pace.

“Secondly, I don’t know how the collarbone will react. It’s very painful at the moment, and if it gets too bad then we can make the decision to withdraw mid-event, and it’s not the end of the world – although that’s certainly not the plan. If we were there in the Polo there is no way I would make that decision, and I would potentially increase the recovery time.”

Dowel is still hopeful of getting back behind the wheel of the VW Polo later in the season, but has conceded that any chance of winning back his Australian Rally Championship crown have gone in 2013.

In his absence in the main series, last year’s 4WD Australian Champion, Michael Boaden, will drive Dowel’s VW Polo as he embarks on his first title defence.

“Michael has a car coming from South Africa, but it hasn’t arrived yet,” Dowel said. “So in the meantime, he’ll drive my car, while our second car has been sold to Mick Patton to contest the ARC.”

With factory-supported cars from Honda and Renault, this year’s East Coast Bullbars-sponsored Australian Rally Championship promises to be one of the most exciting in many years.

The new-for-2013 2WD-only format has attracted plenty of interest, including an entry from last year’s Junior World Rally Champion, Elfyn Evans, from Wales. Last year’s 2WD ARC champion, Eli Evans, will be another driver intent on victory, as will Victorian Brendan Reeves, fresh from two years in the World Championship.

Based in Canberra, the National Capital Rally will run on March 2 and 3, with Heat 1 comprising six stages and 96.06 kilometres on the first day.

Sunday will see competitors tackling a further seven stages over 95.34 kilometres.

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