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Newcastle driver, Michael Guest, starts his 2008 Australian Rally Championship campaign this weekend when he tackles the QUIT Forest Rally at the wheel of his Les Walkden Rallying/Pirtek Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

After a recent stint with other manufacturers, this will be the first time Guest has competed in a Subaru for eight years, and it’s something he’s looking forward to immensely.

With renewed support from Pirtek, Guest and regular co-driver, David Green, will drive a brand new Subaru that will appear in the familiar Pirtek livery.

In 2007, Guest finished both Heats of the QUIT Forest Rally in fourth place, but was left rueing a small error on the final day.

“We finished fourth in Heat 2, but that could easily have been second if I hadn’t stalled the car on a hairpin late in the rally,” he explained. “We dropped to fourth, which was really disappointing.”

But with the new Subaru at his disposal, he’s confident of being able to push reigning champions, Toyota, for victory this weekend.

“WA is an event I really enjoy, particularly if it’s wet,” he said. “When it rains the ball bearing surface binds together and gives more grip, but on the other hand, the red clay roads become a real skating rink when it’s raining.”

Guest last drove for Les Walkden Rallying in 1997, when he won the Group N title in the Australian Rally Championship. His return to the team is seen as a real coup for Australian rallying.

He became acquainted with his new Subaru during a test session in Western Australia on Wednesday, and came away full of confidence ahead of this weekend’s event.

“The car felt very good,” he enthused. “It took a while to get the set-up right to suit my driving style, so we played around with differential maps, spring and suspension settings and the overall geometry of the car, but the new car seems very easy to drive.”

Unofficial times recorded during the test session had Guest and Green on the pace of their rivals, which is all the more encouraging given that they campaigned a normally-aspirated Super 2000 car in last year’s championship.

“Because I’ve driven everything from World Rally Cars and Formula 2 cars, right through to S2000 and Group N, I don’t think it will take long to get the Subaru on the pace,” Guest added. “The Group N Subaru is probably easier to drive than an S2000 car. For sure, it’s vastly different and has more torque and better traction, and overall I think it will be slightly faster than last year’s car.”

Guest admits that the real proof won’t come until the gravel stages of the rally get under way on Saturday, but nevertheless, he’s in a confident frame of mind.

Another new aspect this year is that he’s using Pirelli tyres – the first time in his long and distinguished career that he’s driven competitively on the Italian rubber.

“I’ve driven on just about every other brand of rally tyre, but never Pirelli, but they felt really good in testing and I can’t wait to try them during the rally – hopefully they’ll give us an edge over the opposition.”

Guest and Green will start as the third car on the road, behind two-time Australian Rally Champion, Simon Evans (Toyota), and his younger brother, Eli Evans (Subaru). With the Evans brothers sweeping the roads of loose gravel, the LWR/Pirtek duo are perfectly placed to push for their first victory of the season.

“Of course a first up win would be great, but I’m realistic enough to know that in the first round of the championship, coming away with a good haul of points is the most important thing.

“I’m not too concerned about the short tarmac stages that start the rally on Friday night, but once we get into the forests we’ll just have to see what our pace is like.

“Obviously the aim is to finish in the top three, but if I’m feeling comfortable with my driving and with the car, then we’ll push for a win,” he added.

The QUIT Forest Rally is based in the seaside town of Busselton, three hours south of the Western Australian capital, Perth.

The foreshore of Busselton will kick start the rally with the Busselton Toyota Super Special Stage on Friday night, before the rally heads out to the forests surrounding Nannup for the gravel stages on Saturday and Sunday.

Fifty-six competitors will start the event, which entails 20 special stages (10 per day) covering a total competitive distance of 220km.

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