Mitsubishi ready for Queensland challenge
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is aiming to get full reward at this weekend’s Coates Rally Queensland after the potential its Evolution IX Mitsubishi Lancer has shown in the first two rounds of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship.
Driver Scott Pedder, now in his second season as a factory driver after several years as a top privateer, rates the Queensland round his favorite in the championship.
The event headquarters has moved a little north this year – into the Maroochy Shire, with the start and finish of the rally at the Mooloolaba Beach Esplanade.
The forest stages will again be run around Imbil, a timber town in the picturesque Mary Valley close to Gympie.
While there have been many changes in the course, the 19 stages retain the character for which the rally is renowned – roads with a combination of high-speed stages and tight and twisty sections, sometimes over blind crests and often rocky and harsh on tyres.
Pedder, co-driver Glen Weston and Team Mitsubishi Ralliart principal Alan Heaphy believe they are on the verge of a breakthrough win with the all-wheel-drive Evo IX powered by a turbocharged 2-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control) engine.
Pedder and Weston stand fourth in the driver and co-driver championships on 41 points after their share of misfortunes in the Canberra and West Australian rounds.
The Lancer has been totally rebuilt after its crash in the first heat in WA and the new brake package introduced there, with four-piston calipers front and rear and bigger disks, has been further refined for Queensland.
TMR narrowly missed the podium in Canberra despite front-tyre punctures in both heats and achieved a gallant third place in WA’s second heat with the Evo IX hastily repaired after the previous day’s crash.
Heaphy says the car is now "as good as new" after the total rebuild back at the team’s Dandenong headquarters in Melbourne.
"The damage was extensive but largely superficial and the car is as good as gold now," Heaphy said.
"We’ve made a few technical adjustments for this weekend and will have a fresh engine in.
"We’re very happy with it and are confident that the car and our driver line-up will give a very good account of themselves in Rally Queensland.
"We believe we have the package to win."
As much as Pedder loves Imbil’s forest roads, this event has not been particularly kind to him – but he is upbeat for this weekend, confident that the dividends are about to be reaped for all TMR’s efforts.
"We could, and should, be right up there at the finish on Sunday," Pedder said.
"The car speed is there in the Evo IX; it’s a matter of us putting the results on the board now.
"The roads around Imbil are the hardest in the championship – they don’t give you much room for error and require 100 per cent commitment to your pace notes – but they give a driver a huge buzz," said Pedder, of Melbourne.
"My results in this event have not been as good as in other rallies.
"Last year we had crashes in both heats, but still finished third in the first heat after an early rollover.
"I led here on the Sunday morning in 2003. And I did well in 2001, when I was fourth in an Evo III Lancer.
"It’s the toughest event in the series.
"There’s so much variety in the roads – and they reward commitment.
"If you put in a really big effort on these stages it can pay off for you hugely in terms of the time you can pull off other competitors. That’s not always the case in other rallies."
Co-driver Weston, an endodontist – or root canal specialist – in Brisbane, has even more experience of the Imbil roads, as both a driver and co-driver.
Pedder says Weston’s local knowledge could give them "something of a home-ground advantage".
The pair have now been together almost 18 months, won the Rally of South Australia last year for TMR in an Evolution VIII Lancer, and are hungry for consistent success.
Weston says there is "a sort of democracy in the car"; that he and Pedder have gelled well.
"Rally Queensland is certainly one of the most technically challenging rallies in the championship, with some truly classic rally roads, and teamwork is even more important here," Weston said.
"The emphasis on pace notes, and committing to them, is greater than ever.
"We’ve won some stages in both rallies we’ve done in the Evo IX and been very quick on quite a few others.
"The pace is definitely there and now we’ve got to put it all together for the duration of an event to get our full rewards.
"As a Queenslander, it would be particularly pleasing if we could do that this weekend."
Saturday’s first heat comprises 10 stages and 98.38km of competition at Imbil, while Sunday’s second heat has nine stages with another 97.58km of competition.
Pedder and Weston predict the championship-leading Toyotas of Simon and Sue Evans and Neal Bates and Coral Taylor will be the combinations to beat this weekend, while Dean Herridge and Bill Hayes remain exceptionally competitive in a Subaru as privateers.
An international starter this weekend in an Evo VIII Mitsubishi Lancer is Chinese national champion Lang Xu, who was impressive at the recent WA round and has alongside him reigning Australian champion co-driver Dale Moscatt, who won this event with Cody Crocker last year.