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At the end of the opening Leg of International Rally of Queensland Eli Evans is sitting 24.3 seconds ahead of arch rival Scott Pedder heading into the second and final day tomorrow.

Evans and Pedder blasted out of the blocks, despite the endurance nature of the event, the pair locked in fierce battle from the very first stage. Pedder opened an immediate 1.8 second lead on the opening Gibber stage, but Evans turned the tables on the second stage and never relinquished the lead from that point onwards.

At the lunch break Evans held the lead by just a handful of seconds heading into the afternoon stages. Then he pounced, powering ahead of Pedder during the remaining four stages of the day.

“I’ve probably surprised myself to be that far (24.3 seconds) ahead,” said Eli at the end of the day. “It’s been flat out from the start and Scott (Pedder) has been right there, shame Brendan (Reeves) dropped out early though.”

“At lunchtime Scott and I were only seconds apart, and I was able to stretch that out to over 20 seconds. A few things I think went my way. Firstly I took it cautiously over the rough during the morning, saw how the Honda Jazz handled it, saw that it was handling it well and knew I could push flat out over the rough during the afternoon.”

“I also think I struggled a bit to get into a good rhythm this morning, not sure why, I just couldn’t find a rhythm that worked. I found that rhythm in the afternoon and it all just came together,” said Eli.

Despite the lead Evans is fully aware that it could all evaporate in a moment during tomorrow’s nine stages.

“We led at the end of today’s last stage, and I could have afforded to back off if it was a normal Heat like at most ARC Rounds. But I didn’t, and I added a further 3 seconds, and that could come in very handy tomorrow!” Eli added.

Currently second Pedder wasn’t downbeat, aware too that his current deficit could turn around in a second. “I had a few moments out there today, definitely pushing things pretty hard! Eli beat us fair and square today, he wasn’t holding anything back either,” Scott explained.

“As it stands based on this afternoon I can’t pull that time back but I can heap pressure on Eli tomorrow. We can’t give up, anything could happen tomorrow.”

Pedder believes the main reason for the time gap to Evans is a top speed differential between the Honda Jazz and the Renault Clio. “They have more top speed than us, around 10km/h more, and we know because they tell us at the end of the stages. Here in Queensland there are a lot of really long straights, and if we’re missing out on an extra 10km/h that would help to explain things.”

Another solid performance today from Tom Wilde saw him sitting comfortably in third, over a minute behind team mate Scott Pedder but also over a minute ahead of fourth placed Mark Pedder.

Even though he ended up somewhat in the wilderness Wilde was looking on the up side. “Today is the closest I’ve ever been,” he said. “Every rally I’m getting closer and closer and I really felt today that it was the best I’ve driven the car all year.”

“So I reckon I’ve got a grip on the car, now it’s still a case of learning the events, getting that confidence on the stages and being able to commit to the pace notes completely,” Wilde stated.

Fourth placed Mark Pedder too felt he spent the day in an awkward buffer, not close enough to challenge Wilde and not threatened from behind by Nicholas Box, some 2 minutes further behind.

“It was a good day, the car was perfect, I just ended up in a funny position where I was kind of drifting with no one to challenge,” Mark said.

“I did have a couple of challenges though. First we had a small leak in the Camelback drink bottle and that fogged up the car, then we found out the heated windscreen wasn’t working so we had to drive the stages with the windows down and you can only imagine the amount of dust in the car!”

“Then a huge moment, flat out in sixth gear over a crest and there was a cow right on the racing line! Claire (Ryan, co-driver) threw her hands up expecting a massive accident but we managed to avoid it by millimeters,” Pedder explained.

Brendan Reeves rounded out the top six finishers, a driveshaft failure earlier in the day cost him dearly and he was happy enough to still be running at the day’s end.

“We broke it on the second stage, we fixed it and got going again and after that it was a pretty clean run for the rest of the day,” Reeves said. “Our times after we got going again were pretty good, I’m focusing on getting to the finish now.”

It proved, as ever in Queensland, to be a day of high attrition. Steve Mackenzie parked his Ford Fiesta on the sidelines and he was joined by Jack Monkhouse and Michael Boaden.

Monkhouse arrived at the finish control of the opening stage with smoke billowing from his engine bay, oil squirting onto the hot turbo and lucky not to set alight.

“Looks like a piston,” said Jack as his team disassembled the engine of his Nissan Silvia in the service park. “The engine is pumping oil out of the dipstick spout. We’ve managed to find a set of replacement pistons and we’ll fit them tonight and hopefully get back out there tomorrow.”

Boaden too found himself with engine concerns early in the day. “We had a leak near the water sensor, and it pumped all the water out. I drove to the end of the stage not realizing and the first I knew the oil pressure light was flashing. We got it back to service and remarkably the head gasket hadn’t blown.”

“So we got it back together and tried to get out to complete the afternoon’s stages, but again the oil pressure light was flashing, so we think there is some engine damage that we can’t see and we don’t want to push on again tomorrow and do even more damage – so that’s it for us, weekend over,” Michael said.

Justin Dowel did manage to complete the day but he too found issues with his Volkswagen Polo. “First stage we lost third gear, so we got back to service and changed the gearbox, problem solved,” he explained simply.

“I’ve just spent the rest of the day getting comfortable in the VW again, each stage getting better and feeling more comfortable in the car. I’m here to get experience, so if anything dropping out this morning has helped take some pressure off.”

Away from the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, and at the head of the field, Esapekka Lappi holds a commanding lead in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.

The easy going Finn has a 2 minute advantage over MRF Tyres team mate Gurav Gill, the Indian driver suffering with a puncture early in the day. Japan’s Atsushi Masumura sits in third, ahead of a stellar performance by Adrian Coppin to hold fourth in his Ford Fiesta R2.

Even without Coral Taylor alongside Neal Bates has had no trouble once again dominating the Classics, he and son Harry Bates are just under four minutes ahead of second placed Ryan Smart with Clay Badenoch third.

In the National 4WD Challenge New South Welshman John Mitchell battled throughout the day with Canberran Michael Harding, eventually coming out ahead by over a half minute with Richie Dalton further back in third.

And last but not least Cody Crocker is ahead in the Side-by-Side Challenge in his Polaris RZR, with Iain Hughes also in a Polaris second and Michael Guest’s CanAm Maverick third.

Leg Two of International Rally of Queensland continues tomorrow morning, with the ultra challenging Million LA first up for crews ahead of a further eight stages before the champagne finish at Imbil Showgrounds.
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