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Reigning Queensland Rally Champions Steve Shepheard and Tom Smith set off to the Rally of Canberra with high hopes and expectations of a good start to their 2008 ARC season. This was despite that fact that the crew had not competed since November 2007, and that this year’s mount was not the previous year’s QRC-winning car – but another GSA car that had been fully rebuilt to the highest of standards.

With all of the logistics in place, and following a good recce over the dry Canberra roads, a freak accident in the team’s apartment on Friday night before the rally caused some serious concerns for the well-being of the driver. A spilt jug of boiling water splashed Steve on his forearms and chest, and with nasty-looking burns he was rushed to the Royal Canberra hospital where the wounds were dressed and a shot of painkiller administered.

After a reasonably sound night’s sleep and not showing too much pain, Heat One of the rally was approached with a careful attitude.

While Shepheard was confident that he was still able to compete, team management spelt out that should he experience too much pain, he was simply to back off or return to the Service Park.

Although not driving at ten tenths, the crew were able to set some reasonable times and maintained a steady pace through the morning’s stages. On the first Kowen Forest stage, a broken rear driveshaft caused the car to spin wheels and mis-handle for the rest of the day, losing top speed capabilities and a bucket of competitive time. A cautious approach to the rest of Heat One’s stages enabled the team to finish in a great ninth outright for the day.

With the driveshaft replaced in the short end-of-day service, the team was confident that the car would be ready and able to go in heat two.

With Shepheard feeling better on Sunday morning, the team went out confidently and picked up the pace from the previous day, naturally bettering every stage time along the way.

At the end of a trouble-free day two, the reward was a fantastic fifth outright, behind the factory Toyotas of Simon Evans and Neal Bates, the late model Subaru of Darren Windus and Spencer Lowndes’ Evo. 9 Lancer.

The GSA Wholesale Suspension Evolution 6 Lancer performed extremely well amongst much more fancied competition, and the team was very happy with the overall performance for the weekend.

With coates Rally Queensland the next event on the calendar, Shepheard and Smith look forward to being able to perform well on home ground. In recent years, they have shown that they have the capacity to challenge for a top-five position, and 2008 will be no different.

In 2008 the team is supported by: Oztec Suspension; GSA Wholesale Suspension; King Springs; Exedy Clutches;PWR Racing and Accord Body Works.

Photo: Roy Meuronen.

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