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Activ RallySport driver, Justin Dowel, is gearing up for his biggest event of the year to date when Rally Queensland gets underway on Friday evening.

Dowel and co-driver, Matt Lee, will start the fourth round of the 2009 Australian Rally Championship in fifth place in the title race, determined to maintain that position as the season moves past the half way mark.

This weekend’s event is also round two of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, and while the APRC crews won’t be eligible for national championship points, the Victorian duo will be keen to measure their speed against the region’s best drivers.

The previous ARC round, in Western Australia, started well for the Activ RallySport team with an impressive fourth place in Heat 1, however a roll in Heat 2 badly damaged the team’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, putting them out of the event and leaving them with plenty of work to do before the Queensland round.

Because of the severity of the damage to the car, the team purchased an ex-Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer that has since been fully rebuilt for this weekend.

The car, originally an Evo 8, but now updated to Evo 9 specifications, has a long history. It has been driven by Scott Pedder in ARC rounds, has done Targa Tasmania and the Mount Buller Sprint, and even won the Bathurst 12 Hour race in 2008.

Since taking possession of the new car, team engineer, John Down, has performed “miracles” on the car, preparing it from scratch in less than two weeks.

“Johnny has done an amazing job getting the car ready,” Matt Lee says. “He’s done six weeks work in just a week and a half – but I reckon he’s aged about seven years in that time!”

Downs’ task included replicating the suspension and diff settings from the crashed car, installing the engine management system and tuning the engine, and all the other jobs (both big and small) that are required to get a car ready for rallying.

The car will run in PRC+ trim – basically in standard Group N guise, but with a bigger 34mm turbo restrictor and a slightly more powerful PRC engine.

“Straight out of the box the car felt great when we tested in on Wednesday,” Dowel said. “We did about 40 kilometres of testing over a 2.5 kilometre track, and everything felt really good.

“We made some small adjustments to the suspension and raised the ride height to suit the Queensland roads, but other than that we didn’t change much at all.”

After the accident in Western Australia last month, Dowel is determined to get the car to the finish of this weekend’s rally without any scratches on it.

“There’s no doubt we were a bit apprehensive in testing after coming off a big crash, but we need to ensure we get our minds on the job quickly this weekend and maintain our fifth place in the championship.

“Our first goal is to get the car to the finish in one piece, but hopefully as the event progresses we can increase our speed and get a good result.

“If all goes to plan we hope that fourth or fifth in the ARC field is a strong possibility,” Dowel added.

Both Dowel and Lee have watched their in-car footage from last year’s event in the lead up to this weekend, and after Thursday’s reconnaissance, believe they are in good shape for the rally.

“We watched all the stages from last year and the notes from 2008 gave us a great base to start with,” Lee said.

“However our pacenoting system has evolved a lot in the past 12 months, and the further improvements that we made during yesterday’s recce has improved the notes even further.

“We’re confident that we’re going into Rally Queensland in the best possible shape.”

Rally Queensland gets underway with a ceremonial start at the Nambour Showgrounds on Friday evening, with the action getting underway on Saturday morning in the forests around Imbil.

Day one of the rally involves seven stages totaling 113.77km competitive, while on Sunday a further seven stages and 114km of competitive driving awaits competitors.

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