Activ RallySport driver Justin Dowel has started his 2011 Bosch Australian Rally Championship campaign in great fashion, taking third place in the opening heat of the series in Western Australia.

Disadvantaged by running as the first car on the slippery stages, Dowel and co-driver, Matt Lee, were forced to sweep the road for their rivals throughout the opening day’s 10 special stages.

However, with a plan to secure a strong points haul in the first round, Dowel guided his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX successfully into third place.

Second after the two tarmac super special stages in Busselton on Friday night, Dowel and Lee dropped to fifth place after the first two gravel stages on Saturday morning, which totalled 36 kilometres.

The disadvantage was so pronounced that on the event’s longest stage, the 24km Ferndale test, Dowel lost almost a second per kilometre to the eventual heat winner, Ryan Smart, driving a Toyota Corolla.

But a string of first, second and third fastest times throughout the remainder of the day put them comfortably within the top three.

“It was a good day and it means we’ve started the championship with a good points haul,” Dowel said.

“We knew that running first on the road was going to make it hard today, but our plan was to keep within striking distance of the leaders so that we could finish in the top three.

“We’ve managed to do that, and if we can do the same thing tomorrow, then it will have been a successful event for us.

“We broke our ‘dog’ gearbox in testing, and it was quite hard to get used to the synchro box on first three stages and having to use the clutch. We don't have a spare gearbox now, so it was important to get to the finish in one piece.

“But we’ve had a good day. We won a couple of stages and with tomorrow’s stages being a bit more open, it could suit us more.”

Heat 2 starts with a further two runs around the Busselton street stage, before another eight gravel stages on Sunday.

Quit Forest Rally, Heat 1
1. R. Smart / J. Allen, Toyota Corolla Sportivo, 1h06m19.7s
2. M. Pedder / L. Tierney, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +32.4s
3. J. Dowel / M. Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +46.8s
4. E. Evans / G. Weston, Honda Civic Type R, +2m05.9s
5. A. Stone / H. Drury, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +2m51.3s 
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