Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
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16th May, 2006
The NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship is the country's most competitive motor sport series, and Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is "up" for its West Australian round this weekend (19th-21st May) with its Lancer Evolution IX.
The ARC is already regarded as the premier national championship for showroom-class rally cars in the world and statistical analysis after this year's first round in Canberra points to just 14 seconds between the three main competing vehicle makes - Mitsubishi, Toyota and Subaru - over the course of a normal ARC round.
These rounds generally comprise about 200 km of competition. In each of the two heats at each round the margin between first and third, or even fourth, place could be as little as six seconds this year, based on the detailed analysis of Canberra stage times circulated within the rally community by CAMS (the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport).
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart, in its second season as an ARC outright challenger under the leadership of renowned touring and sports car engineer and team manager Alan Heaphy, is chasing its first victory with the all-wheel-drive Lancer Evo IX powered by a turbocharged 2-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control) engine.
In its first season of Group N (showroom class) competition under Heaphy, TMR won last year's South Australian round of the ARC with a Lancer Evolution VIII.
Driver Scott Pedder, from Melbourne, and co-driver Glen Weston, from
Brisbane, showed the Evo IX's potential in Canberra, winning the most stages
(seven) of any car in that rally but narrowly missing a podium finish after tyre
punctures in both heats.
"It would be a great 'present' for a milestone birthday to win the Quit Forest Rally, but success for Team Mitsubishi Ralliart with the Evo IX is more important than any personal glory," Pedder said.
"The team has made a lot of progress since we started working together early
"The car is very, very good, the preparation by Alan Heaphy and the guys at Mitsubishi Ralliart headquarters at Dandenong (in Melbourne) is always absolutely first rate, and now it's up to Glen and I to do the business."
Another TMR Lancer Evo IX recently ran among the top three, against half-million-dollar Porsche and Lamborghini "super cars", in the internationally-renowned Targa Tasmania tarmac rally, driven by Warwick Rooklyn and Linda Long - who had to settle for sixth place after a time penalty for having to change two tyres for the last day of the event.
An Evo VIII from the Mitsubishi Ralliart workshop took legendary WA rally driver Ross Dunkerton to victory in the initial Targa West around Perth last September.
In 2004, TMR's first year under Heaphy, Dunkerton won the ARC's Australia Cup in an all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Magna VR-X.
This weekend's Forest Rally is based at Busselton, a coastal holiday town in WA, and Nannup, a timber town inland to the east where the main street becomes the service park.
The field of 56 cars is scheduled to compete twice over a 2.39 km tarmac super special stage at Barnard Park on the Busselton foreshore to start the rally on Friday night, and then twice again on Saturday night to begin the second heat.
Heat 1 comprises 95.97 kms over 10 stages and heat two 99.52 kms in nine stages, for a total of 195.49 kms of competition.
TMR is facing a race against time to fit a new brake package, with four-piston calipers front and rear and bigger disks, recently homologated by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the world governing body of motor sport.
"The new brake package will give us extra speed per kilometre, especially on the tarmac stage, if we can get it on in time," Heaphy said.
Pedder said the tarmac stage was crucial to success on the rally, with Toyota's championship-leading veteran Neal Bates particularly strong on the sealed surface.
"Drivers can lose very valuable seconds in a short distance on that super special," Pedder said.
"We'll be working and concentrating very hard on maximising our performance on that stage, because we do it four times in total.
"TMR's recent Targa Tasmania experience might be beneficial to us there.
"Overall, the Forest Rally has been a favorite event of mine and I've had quite a good record in it."
Last year Pedder and Weston won the rally's longest stage, the 23.12 km Brockman, both times the field drove it, but hitting a hidden log early in the second heat ruled them out of contention for victory, although they finished strongly.
In 2004, as a privateer, Pedder won the second heat in a Lancer Evo VII after Chris Atkinson's Subaru was disqualified.
In 2003 Pedder was third in the second heat in an Evo VI and in 2002 he was third outright in an Evo VI and led the second heat until the last stage, when he was pipped by Possum Bourne.
"The Forest Rally is quite different to any of the rallies in the eastern states," Pedder said.
"WA's 'ball-bearing'-like stones make the road surfaces unique - and slippery.
"You've got to have your car set up very well, with lots of traction.
"On the Saturday the stages are pretty much through the ridge line of the hills at Nannup and are quite tight and technical.
"On the Sunday they are more traditional forest stages - and faster."
Although retaining its essential character, the Brockman stage has been shortened to 20.32 km this year, leaving Saturday's Ferndale as the event's longest at 22.75 km - with the field scheduled to drive it twice too.
"I've done better on Brockman than any other stage in the whole championship over the years - it's fast and flowing and I love it," Pedder said.
"But I've also done well on some tight and twisty stages.
"The Evo IX is very good on all types of roads, so we're confident we can do very well this weekend."
Pedder and Weston are 'seeded' third, behind Melbourne's Simon and Sue Evans in a Toyota Corolla and West Australians Dean Herridge and Bill Hayes in a Subaru Impreza.
Directly behind the TMR pair are Neal Bates and Coral Taylor in the other Toyota entry and WA privateers Darren Windus and Jonathon Mortimer in a Subaru.
Chinese national champion Lang Xu adds an international element to the rally this year in an Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, with current Australian champion co-driver Dale Moscatt alongside him.
They are 'seeded' ninth, ahead of the two-wheel-drive Ford Focus of Michael Guest and Mark Stacey.
The rally is scheduled to end mid-afternoon Sunday, WA time, with the podium presentations in Nannup.
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