PHOTO: Scott Pedder tests his WRC2 Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time.
AUSTRALIA’S new contender in the FIA World Rally Championship, Scott Pedder, has hit the roads of northern Portugal for the first time in preparation for his debut at Vodafone Rally de Portugal next weekend.
Pedder, who will contest at least five rounds of the WRC2 category in a new Ford Fiesta R5 car, successfully completed the first of two days’ testing designed to simulate the challenging conditions expected when the rally starts on Thursday night.
The current Australian Rally Champion, from Melbourne, quickly found his limits on a tight and twisty two-kilometre test course.
“It was my first time in the car and it was just amazing. The way it handles is just incredible, I just can’t compare it to any other rally car I’ve ever driven in the past,” Pedder said after the Sunday hit-out.
“We managed to take the rear bumper off the car early in the day grazing it against a bank, and then I had a real crack on the last run and dislodged the front bumper too on a tight, downhill corner.
“As a driver it’s important to know what you can and can’t get away with, especially coming out of a very different car to this competing in the Australian Rally Championship.
“Using this stage was as bad as it will be during the rally, so everything else I’ll face now will be better. That gives me confidence because I felt that today went really well.”
Pedder, co-driver and countryman Dale Moscatt and their Spanish-run RMC team have a further day’s testing ahead today, when he’ll be able to compare his performance against a host of other contenders in the biggest WRC2 field in years.
“This will be the official test of the rally for all the teams, so there will be more cars and the stage will be much longer, we believe five kilometres. It will be interesting to compare our pace against some of the other drivers on what I’m hoping will be a much wider and faster road that the one we used today,” he said.
“I know we aren’t going to be on the outright pace of the drivers who have competed in WRC2 previously; they have far more experience in these cars, in some cases a couple of years.”
“The advantage for me is that this is a brand new rally for everybody. No one has driven on these roads previously and that means we’re all starting from the same point in regards to local knowledge of the roads and conditions.
“I’m confident that we can build up our speed over the weekend and be on a good pace with the top drivers by the end of the rally.”
Pedder knows he will face a baptism of fire in chasing his long-held ambition to contest the WRC. Starting in the second-tier WRC2 will allow him to gauge his speed against 26 other drivers from similar national and regional Championships.
“It’s incredibly exciting to face a field of such talented drivers,” he said.
“When I decided to enter the WRC2 this year I really wanted to test myself. Well, by the end of Portugal, I’ll certainly have done that and I’ll have no doubts where I stand as a driver.”
The car Pedder will drive is built to FIA R5 regulations. While it visually resembles the outright factory World Rally Cars it is restricted to a slightly less powerful engine.
The Rally de Portugal is Round 5 of the 2015 WRC and marks a major change for the event as it moves to northern Portugal for the first time since 2001.
Based out of Matosinhos, north of Porto, the event will consist of a ceremonial start at Guimarães on Thursday afternoon, and will be followed by an evening Super Special stage at Lousada rallycross circuit.
The first full day heads north for stages around Ponte de Lima, near the Spanish border. Saturday’s route, the longest of the rally, journeys east for tests near Amarante.
Sunday’s leg has just three stages, with the focus on the classic Fafe test, an icon of world rallying with huge crowds expected to line a famous jump.