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2011 Australian Rally Champion, Justin Dowel, has gained valuable experience of his new Activ RallySport Volkswagen Polo at the International Rally of Queensland.

Driving the car in a round of the national championship for the first time this year, Dowel and new co-driver, Sue Evans, suffered mechanical problems on both days of the rally, but came away with plenty of enthusiasm for future events.

Having driven a classic Datsun, a side-by-side buggy and his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 in previous rounds this year, Dowel stepped back into the outright category after recovering from a shoulder injury.

With no chance of championship success in 2013, he began the Rally of Queensland intent on gaining knowledge for his 2014 Australian Rally Championship (ARC) campaign.

“We had a few dramas throughout the weekend, but we certainly learnt plenty about the car and what I need to do to improve my speed against our main opposition,” Dowel said.

“To have Sue Evans – a four time Australian Champion – in the co-driver’s seat was incredible, and she did a fantastic job over the whole weekend.

“With so much experience, she’s so professional and keeps a level head all the time, never getting fazed or stressed about what’s happening. She also did an amazing job keeping me calm, cool and focused on the our goals for the rally.”

Sue’s husband, Simon Evans – also a four time Australian Champion – helped Dowel with the set-up of the VW Polo in the lead up to the rally, providing knowledge and input on front-wheel drive rally cars.

In testing alone, Simon’s advice helped Dowel improve his times by two seconds over a two kilometre test stage.

“He just knew exactly where to point out what driving changes I needed to make, and bang, we instantly went faster. There is no one better than Simon for driver instruction.”

Once the rally got underway, things quickly turned sour, with third gear breaking on the six-speed sequential gearbox on the very first stage.

But with that repaired, Dowel and Evans pushed on and used the event as a competitive test session.

“We managed to get a lot of competitive kilometres under our belts, and that was the most important aspect of competing in Queensland,” Dowel added.

“On day two we were going really well on the rough Million LA stage, and I was probably trying a little bit too hard. As a result, we had a heavy landing over a series of jumps and broke the power steering.”

With that fixed, the pair returned to the stages for more experience, and worked on areas for future development of the car.

The car is incredibly well balanced and handles superbly, but Dowel believes the steering feels heavy and slow, which the team will work on before the next event.

“It’s such an enjoyable car to drive, but you really need to attack with it and drive it at 100% all the time,” he said.

“We have a lot of speed to make up on the leading Hondas and Renaults, but we know what areas we need to work on, and will concentrate on those over the next few events.”

The Activ RallySport team have two test sessions planned ahead of their next event, the World Rally Championship qualifying Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour in mid-September.

Following that, they will contest the Victorian Championship’s Akademos Rally in October, before the final round of the Australian Championship, November’s Rally Victoria.

“It was great to be back in the forest and competing for outright placings in Queensland, and I’m really looking forward to the remainder of the season as we build towards an attack on next year’s ARC,” Dowel said.

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