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The Activ RallySport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX of Justin Dowel and Matt Lee are third after the opening day of Rally Victoria, the final round of the 2011 Bosch Australian Rally Championship.

With only a three-point gap to series leader Ryan Smart, the Victorians need to finish ahead of their main rival to clinch their first national championship.

After the opening day’s six stages, Dowel and Lee sit in third position, 44 seconds behind Smart and needing to finish day two of the event two places ahead of their Queensland rival.

They took a second and two third fastest stage times on the opening day, but an off-road excursion at the very end of the first stage cost them 34 seconds and has left them with a job to do to catch Smart on day two.

“The day was pretty good,” Dowel said. “We had a great first stage – at least for the first 21.65km of it.

“Then, on the very last corner I arrived with way too much speed and we went off the road at about 140km/h.

“There’s not a scratch on the car, but we were very lucky to get away with it.”

Dowel was quick to accept responsibility for the mistake, rueing an error so near to the end of the stage.

Throughout the rest of the day he tried hard to claw back time on Smart, but a gearbox problem and a mysterious loss of engine power thwarted his efforts.

“We need to finish two places ahead of Ryan tomorrow to win the championship, but it’s really out of our control now.

“We’ll push hard tomorrow and see where we end up,” he said.

With a further nine stages tomorrow and a competitive distance of 136km, the championship is a long way from over.

Fine and sunny conditions are predicted around Warragul, and with the roads more suited to Dowel’s liking, he’s still confident of clawing back time and giving himself a real shot at claiming the 2011 Bosch Australian Rally Championship.

Rally Victoria – after Day 1

1. Simon Evans / Sue Evans, Subaru Impreza WRX, 48m01.1s
2. Ryan Smart    / John Allen, Toyota Corolla Sportivo, +10.8s
3. Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +54.7s
4. Steve Shepheard / John McCarthy, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, +1m26.2s
5. Tom Wilde / Scott Allan, Subaru Impreza WRX, +1m30.4s

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