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Motoring journalist Samantha Stevens sat down with leading Australian Rally Championship driver, Mark Pedder, for this insight into the 2012 championship, and his factory drive with Honda.

With the first round, Rally Calder, this weekend, Pedder is about to embark on his most exciting season yet.

SS: With Pedder as a surname, you were essentially born into the world of cars, both at work and outside of it.

MP: I’ve always loved cars. I think I was about six months old when I went to my first rally. I’d grown up around rallying and cars, and it’ something I always wanted to do.

So what was your first road car?

A Toyota 4-Runner.

Right… Was your first rally car a little bit better than that?

My brother Scott and I were running Escorts as soon as we got our licenses. We crashed a lot of Escorts…

What’s your first memory of driving on the dirt?

That’d be with Hughey Bell in his RX-7. I remember thinking it was such cool fun to go as fast as you want through the forest.

And your first rally experience?

I co-drove for my dad at age 16 before my brother and I teamed up together. We took turns co-driving for each other at events, and that was interesting [laughs]. We both hated co-driving, and finally we had one big crash where we ended seven feet up in a tree, and Mum said we couldn’t co-drive for each other anymore. That suited us just fine.

How hot was the sibling rivalry between the two of you?

Scott and I made a pact a few years back that whoever got the Ralliart factory drive (2005) would rally, and the other would run the business; and I lucked out. I had a five-year break from the sport, and it was actually my wife, Kylie, who got me back into it - she had a vested interest. I had taken up dirt bikes, and after busting my wrist, my shoulder and my knee, she decided it was safer if I was in a car! So I came back in 2010, and ended up second in the championship that year.

And in 2012 it’s your turn to live the dream, with a factory drive at Honda in one of its two new Jazz hatches. How did the Honda gig come about?

I’d been chatting to Eli Evans, Glen Weston [Scott Pedder’s co-driver from 2005 to 2009] and Pete (Evans) for a little while about the whole front-wheel-drive thing and what I was going to do – I’ve known Pete for close to 30 years – and one day he called up and basically told me that “I probably wanna come over for a chat.” He was probably right!

And you’ve had some seat time in the car before the inaugural event at Calder?

Yeah, we had a test in Italy, near where the Jazz’s are being built, about 35km out of Pisa on a gravel test facility that the WRC teams use. With the work that I do, I travel a lot, but this is certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever done rally-wise.

Do you feel the pressure of being a part of a factory team?

I think the first round at Calder and then Perth will be a learning curve. Honda don’t expect anything of me in the first few rallies, and I don’t want to set the world on fire – or anything else!

With your brother as CEO of the ARC, you must have had some insider knowledge about where the ARC was heading with the front-drive cars?

It’s funny with Scott; he plays his cards very close to his chest. But all the top drivers knew what his direction was for the sport. I suppose I was just a little bit more proactive with what I wanted to do. And after sitting in (Eli Evans’) Civic at a test, the worry about FWD cars not being as exciting was literally swept away. These things are proper little race cars; not ageing production cars that have been converted. Mind you, if you had asked me three years ago if I would be running a little front-drive car in the ARC, I probably would have laughed at you.

In 2011 we saw unrestricted power, and now, we are looking at 2WDs as the premier class, and SUVs as another, with the powerful AWD turbos on the backburner. The ARC - and your brother - seems to be looking for a way to turn it around…

Again, it’s hard to talk about your brother, and after his accident (in 2010 at Rally of SA, where he badly broke his leg and officially retired), he still wanted to keep in the sport, and was finding his way a little. I think the unrestricted thing worked – numbers were up, and it brought back some excitement. You can be more aggressive with more power, be a lot more sideways, and it’s fun to do and fun to watch. By the same token, you don’t want to be doing 240km/h on dirt!

So, will it work?

A lot of manufacturers are keen, and will be watching what Honda do this year and what they get out of it. Mazda has also been sniffing around. I would expect three or four manufacturers in the 2WD class by 2013, and Subaru are world leaders in AWD SUVs, so there’s a huge opportunity for them to get back into the sport [with the SUV category], give them a sniff and get the car sales happening.  I think it’s as good a chance that we have of turning the ARC around.

1993 – Debuted in the George Woods Introductory Trial. Finished third outright.
1995 - Entered the Round Australia rally
2000 – Third outright in the 2000 Victorian Rally Championship
2010 - Third outright Rally Queensland and third outright in newly reinstated home event, finishing the season in equal second place
2011 – Fourth outright in the ARC
2012 – factory drive with Honda as part of a two-car 2WD team with co-driver Claire Ryan, preparing for a full assault on the 2013 2WD premier ARC class

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