Coast rally looms
MITSUBISHI driver Steve Shepheard is hoping his long-standing love for the International Rally of Queensland course will be requited when this year's race gets under way on the Coast next month.
The Sachs Rally Team driver has had a luckless start to the Australian Rally Championship - which is incorporated into the Coast event - due to mechanical problems.
However, he firmly believes he has the car to win the third race of the ARC season and go on to capture his first national crown.
At yesterday's official launch of the annual race at Caloundra, the hulking Brisbane-based veteran was keen to talk up his chances of adding another ARC triumph to his Coffs Coast Forest Rally victory last September.
Shepheard has every reason to feel confident, given the Coffs Harbour race is part of the World Rally Championship.
He has also won several rounds of the Queensland Rally Championship on a course that is very similar to what he will experience next month - the major difference being the addition of a Pomona stage to this year's International Rally of Queensland.
The Coffs Harbour victory is the biggest win of Shepheard's career and he will be hunting for more big-name scalps on the Sunshine Coast.
Standing beside his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10, the 40-year-old said he was "very confident" of seeing off a formidable field that included reigning Asia Pacific champion Alister McRae of Scotland and his factory-backed Proton teammate, Sweden's two-time junior world champion Per-Gunnar Andersson.
"It's going to be extremely competitive, but to be honest our goal is first outright and I believe we can do it," the two-time Queensland Rally Championship winner said.
"The car's got the speed and we've got the speed as drivers.
"I think we can pull it off."
Along with co-driver John McCarthy, Shepheard was leading last month's Rally Calder - the first stop of this season's ARC - with about 1km to go when the rear differential broke and he had to settle for fourth place at the Victorian event.
The ARC then moved to Western Australia for the Quit Forest Rally.
Shepheard had to withdraw from that race on day two due to a gearbox problem.
With four rounds of the championship remaining, he is in fourth place overall on 91 points. Perth's Tom Wilde leads on 152 points.
Still confident he could win the championship, Shepheard pointed out that Victorian driver Justin Dowel went on to take out last season's title after he held fourth place going into round three.
"We've gone into this season with the attitude of winning, and unfortunately mechanical problems have taken us away from actually winning," Shepheard said.
"But we still believe we've got a chance … there's no reason why we can't do the same thing (as Dowel) and eventually win the championship.
"Basically, that (the Coffs Harbour victory) put us in a position of being extremely confident for the 2012 championship and we still are."
International Rally of Queensland
Held: May 25-27
Involves: 230km of stages on the Sunshine Coast and in the hinterland
Incorporates: Rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and the Australian Rally Championship