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Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is in top form for the defence of its Rally South Australia crown this weekend (August 19-20).

TMR’s Evolution IX Mitsubishi Lancer, driven by Scott Pedder with Glen Weston as co-driver, won the most recent heat of the NEC Australian Rally Championship at Tasmania’s Safari in July. It also won the second heat of the Queensland round of the championship in June.

Pedder says the Evolution IX Lancer is a far superior car to the Evolution VIII model in which he and Weston won Rally SA last year.

The pair are justifiably confident as they return to the Barossa Valley, the Mt Crawford Forest and the Adelaide Hills in search of a repeat of that triumph – and a first outright round win in the championship with the all-wheel-drive Evo IX.

Pedder says the Evo IX’s advantages over the car that won last year’s Rally SA are the strong performance of its turbocharged 2-litre engine with MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control) and greatly improved brakes.

The new brake package - with four-piston calipers front and rear and bigger discs - was only approved by the world governing body of motor sport, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), on the eve of this season and is now allowing Pedder to brake up to 10 metres later into some corners.

“These brakes are absolutely fantastic,” Pedder says. “There are a lot of road junctions on this course, and so brakes are going to be especially important.”

Melbourne-based Pedder also has enormous confidence in the Evo IX’s Pirelli tyres for this weekend.

“We tried a Pirelli tyre compound in Tasmania last month that we didn’t have available to us at Rally SA last year but which we believe will be ideal for this event,” Pedder says.

Not only is the Evo IX in perfect shape for the rally but Pedder, at 192cm a giant among the front-line drivers in the championship, will be too. Last year he was struck down by a mystery illness early in the week of the event and even spent time in Tanunda Hospital on an intravenous drip.

“After that I was on a diet of toast and vegemite for the rest of the week, as well as barley sugar and eight litres of water a day,” Pedder says. “Glen Weston is a dental expert (an endodontist, or root canal specialist, in Brisbane) but he was more like a doctor to me during last year’s Rally SA.

“Together we got the right result, which was the biggest buzz, and this year we’re going to be in infinitely better shape before we start, so we’ve got every reason for optimism.”

The 2005 victory was the first outright win at an ARC round for Mitsubishi Ralliart under Alan Heaphy, the renowned touring and sports car engineer and team manager who worked with the likes of Craig Lowndes, Mark Skaife, Jim Richards and Wayne Gardner in V8 Supercar racing before he returned to his roots in rallying.

In Heaphy’s first season running TMR it campaigned a pair of automatic all-wheel-drive Magnas – predecessor of Mitsubishi’s latest large sedan, the 380 - with rally-driving legend Ross Dunkerton winning the Australia Cup.

Heaphy celebrated last year’s victory in Rally SA by giving Pedder and Weston huge bear hugs – and the same is on the cards if they repeat the feat this weekend.

There will be the now traditional ceremonial start in the main street of Tanunda on Friday night, followed by almost 200km of competition over the next two days – 101.02km in 10 stages on Saturday and another 90.60km in nine stages on Sunday.

The course is similar to 2005, although the High Eden stage near Pewsey Vale, a favorite with drivers, will be run in the opposite direction and called Eden High this year. It has also been stretched by 600 metres, making it 20.82km.

Rally SA has become the most popular round of the championship with competitors and spectators. This year there will be eight viewing points in the Forties area of Mt Crawford and the service park is again at Mt Pleasant Showgrounds.

Not only did the TMR Evolution VIII Lancer win this rally in 2005, but Mitsubishi has excelled at the event since it return to the championship calendar several years ago. In 2003 the Mitsubishi stalwart Ed Ordynski and his co-driver Iain Stewart won the rally in an Evolution VII Lancer. And in 2004 Ordynski and Stewart stood on the podium again, as did Finnish driver Juha Kangas and his co-driver Julia Rabbett, who had also driven an Evo VII Lancer.

Pedder and Weston are seeded No. 2 in this weekend’s 58-car field, behind series leaders Simon and Sue Evans in a Toyota Corolla but ahead of Toyota veterans Neal Bates and Coral Taylor and Subaru’s top hopes, Dean Herridge and Bill Hayes, in an Impreza.

Rally SA is the fifth round of the championship, with the last in Victoria – the Rally of Melbourne – in September.

“We’re aiming to win all four remaining heats and as many stages as possible,” Pedder says. “We missed out on some points early in the season through various misfortunes, but if we win Rally SA we could still be in contention for the title in Melbourne, where there is a 50 per cent points bonus for the final round.

“But, to draw on a football analogy, we’re taking it one ‘game’ at a time, so our focus is entirely on Rally SA at the minute. This event is particularly important to us because of Mitsubishi’s headquarters being in Adelaide. And it’s a fair-dinkum drivers’ rally this one.

“It has been regarded as a true winter rally, but it is a couple of weeks later this year and recent conditions have been quite dry. We will just adapt to whatever conditions the weekend throws up. We tasted success here last year – and we loved the taste. Nothing could be better now than to score back-to-back wins in Rally SA,” Pedder said.

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