Victorians Justin Dowel and Matt Lee have won the 2011 Bosch Australian Rally Championship after securing the title after a hard-fought battle over the final event, Rally Victoria, this weekend.
Driving their Activ RallySport Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, Dowel needed to finish the event two places ahead of his Queensland rival, Ryan Smart, and managed that convincingly after the Toyota driver suffered driveshaft failure late in the event.
Second place overall in Rally Victoria, behind 2010 Australian Champion Simon Evans, gives Dowel and Lee their first national championship in a year that also saw them take their first event win, at the Rally of South Australia.
“Wow, I don?t know what to say,”
a stunned Dowel said at the finish of the championships fifth and final round. “It’s a really freaky feeling, and it really hasn’t sunk in yet. We had a good day today, but I had to pull my finger out this afternoon to put the pressure back on Ryan. I knew that if we kept persisting then the result may come. We never gave up, even after yesterday’s problems when I put the car off the road. The guys in the team just kept telling me to keep pushing and it’s paid off. I can’t believe it.”
“The Activ RallySport guys have been awesome this year,” Dowel added. “I’ve really put them through hell this year. This win is as much for our loyal sponsors and the guys who have worked hard on the car all year as it is for Matt and I. Without their expertise and support we couldn’t have achieved what we’ve managed, and I can’t thank them enough.”
After a spin on the first stage of the event cost Dowel over 30 seconds, he clawed his way back from 10th place with a string of top three stage times. However, with two stages of the event to run he still trailed Smart by 33.9 seconds, but when the Queenslander broke a driveshaft and dropped over six minutes, the fight for the Bosch Australian Rally Championship was as good as over.
Dowel simply had to finish the final 1.6 kilometre spectator stage at Warragul’s Lardner Park to claim the title, which he duly did. He and Lee finished the event in second place, just over a minute behind Simon Evans, after which the celebrations started in earnest.
“What an unreal feeling , I really am overwhelmed with a wave of emotions at the moment,” co-driver Matt Lee said. “The whole team have put in so much effort this year, and it’s great to give them the result we’ve been aiming for all year. JD and I have being competing together for nine years, and we’ve had lots of ups and downs along the way. After keeping our heads in this event it’s great to finish the year on such a high note. As a co-driver, it makes all those years of pacenote practice with my friend, Penny Swan, worthwhile. We spent hours and hours together writing notes, and that experience has paid off.”
Both Dowel and Lee were quick to praise their great friends, and rivals, Ryan Smart and John Allen, who had looked like taking the title until two stages from the finish. “Ryan is a brilliant driver and a great guy. While we’re the ones who are celebrating, I know how Ryan and John must be feeling. I’m sure they’ll be back bigger and better next year,” Dowel said.
The Bosch Australian Rally Championship gets under way again at the new Rally Calder in Victoria, from March 2 to 4, while Dowel and Lee?s title defence will begin.
VIEW PHOTOS FROM RALLY VICTORIA 2011 HERE Rally Victoria results after day 2
1. Simon Evans / Sue Evans, Subaru Impreza WRX, 1h29m37.8s
2. Justin Dowel / Matt Lee, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +1m43.8s
3. Tom Wilde / Scott Allan, Subaru Impreza WRX, +1m56.4s
4. Will Orders / Rian Calder, Subaru Impreza WRX, 3m48.7s
5. Adam Casmiri / Tom Ryan, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII, 5m14.1s
2011 Australian Rally Championship – Final Pointscore
1. Justin Dowel / Matt Lee – 340.5 points
2. Ryan Smart / John Allen – 327.25
3. Steve Shepheard / John McCarthy – 199.50
4. Mark Pedder / Lee Tierney – 186
5. Eli Evans / Glen Weston – 175
ATP client Dowel wins 2011 Australian Rally Championship