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This week’s announcement that Honda Australia had chosen to discontinue their involvement in the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship came as a surprise to most, both inside and outside the sport.
Yet hardest hit are it’s two drivers Eli Evans and Mark Pedder, their futures past the remaining two Rounds of the 2013 season entirely unclear. Rally.com.au caught up with both Evans and Pedder to gauge their reaction to the announcement.
“This (announcement) doesn’t change what’s left of this year. It was a bit of a shock but we knew the decision was coming soon and we knew it could have been either good news or bad news, as it turns out it was bad news,” explained Evans.
The relationship between Honda and Eli began in 2010; following on from Honda’s dabble into the sport the year before with British driver Guy Wilks.
“I’ve had four great years with Honda, they always made me feel part of their family and to have delivered them a drivers title and a manufacturers title, with hopefully more to come this year, that makes me incredibly proud to have been involved with them,” added Eli.
Evans believed that the reason behind Honda decision was fairly simple.
“Honda are a very proud company and everything they do is based on giving 100%. I think with the ARC they felt they couldn’t give 100%. They looked at every option to continue but in the end I think they felt they just couldn’t do it justice.”
Mark Pedder’s involvement has been more recent, he joined the team in 2012 and helped to debut the G2 specification Honda Jazz alongside Eli. He agreed with Eli that Honda’s withdrawal was borne from a desire to remain on top, but that ultimately the Japanese manufacturer felt the next step was too great a step to take.
“For Honda to remain competitive with the Jazz, with new manufacturers and more powerful cars rumoured for next year’s ARC, they would have had to increase the budget and I don’t think that was something they wanted to, or had the ability to do,” Pedder explained.
“Also Honda have a return to Formula 1 coming in 2015, and it’s fair to say that the Japanese heads at Honda feel that that is the focus for their motorsport involvement moving forwards,” continued Pedder.
With Eli currently first in the Championship title race, a clear 61 points up on second placed Scott Pedder, and Mark Pedder fourth, both Honda drivers are claiming to be keen to push this week’s announcement out of their minds as they focus on the upcoming rally in Coffs Harbour.
“The year is not over yet, we have two Rounds to go, and I have to keep my wits about me,” said Eli. “I think most people are assuming I’ve got the Championship in the bag, but we go to Coffs Harbour knowing that a tiny mistake could completely turn the points race on its head.”
“Mathematically if I can pull a big enough points lead in Coffs we could sew up the title. Until that happens though I’ve got to keep the pressure on myself to perform. In Queensland Scott (Pedder) and I were battling it out and in the end he had a problem, yet it could have easily gone the other way and Scott could have been leading the Championship.”
Likewise Pedder is maintaining the focus on both supporting Eli but also revealing that he might change tact and take a more singular approach to the upcoming rallies.
“It’s sort of business as usual for the rest of the year as far as the drivers and team are concerned. I’d aimed to spend the next two rallies watching Eli’s back in the aim to capture both the drivers and manufacturers titles again for Honda,” stated Mark.
“Now though maybe I need to focus on myself a little bit. Maybe a change of mentality is required, it might be a case of ‘balls out’ driving for the next two rallies to show any potential manufacturers looking to get into the sport what I can do,” he added.
“I want to see the Honda Jazz off in style! It’s been an incredible car; it’s written new records and won Championships. I want it to have a spectacular end to its career,” Eli threw in.
The pair though is surely starting to look ahead to 2014, with neither driver wanting to end the current season on a high but face the prospect of a bleak off-season without a future.
“Mark (Pedder) and I spoke straight away when we learnt the news. I think we both agreed straight away that we work well together; we finished 1 and 2 in the Championship last year and won the manufacturers title. We form a good team and we’d like to stick together next year,” said Eli.
And Mark Pedder was quick to echo Eli sentiments on sticking together. “Eli and I have spoken a lot in the last couple of days and I think we’ve made the decision to try everything to stay together next year.”
“We’ve got a heap of ideas but it’s important that we get Coffs out of the way first. There is a big break between Coffs and the final Round in Victoria, so hopefully we can use that time to come up with a plan for 2014.”
“It’s definitively my aim to be out there again next year and it’s be great to help another manufacturer into the sport in the same way we have with Honda,” Pedder added.
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