Tight at the top of Targa after day two
The battle for victory in Targa Tasmania is hotting up with the day one leader, Tony Quinn, now sharing the top spot with South Australian Kevin Weeks in a Lamborghini.
Eight-time winner, Jim Richards, is just one second further back in third place after a day that really saw the cream rise to the top.
In the classic competition Ben Wooster, driving the 1990 Nissan Skyline GTS, is coming under increasing pressure from two-time winner, Rex Broadbent, with Bill Pye not far behind in a similar 1974 Porsche 911.
Greg Johnston still leads the Showroom class in his Mitsubishi Lancer, but Mazda drivers Brendan Reeves and Rick Bates are increasing the pressure on the Lancer Evo 9 driver with three days still to run.
The pace of the leading cars increased significantly as the cars headed to the west coast of Tasmania for a further nine stages. The highlight for many was the 14km Sideling test, one of the most famous in the event.
Despite only winning of the day's stages, Weeks and co-driver Bec Crunkhorn moved up from their overnight fourth placing and could well have been leading the event had it not been for an engine problem two stages from the finish.
"We were going fine, but when we got to Elephant Saddle we had engine problems and we've struggled in that stage and lost time," Weeks said. "We have no idea what it is, but the boys will fix it tonight and we'll be back there tomorrow."
Weeks was still fifth quickest on the stage, and more importantly, only dropped four seconds to Quinn, who is still looking for the promised rain to arrive, when his four-wheel drive Nissan GTR should really come into its own.
"I think it's good for the event that it's so close," Quinn said. "There's some good cars, some good drivers and a few surprises. The Skelta didn't last and (last year's winner, Steve) Glenney is nowhere to be seen.
"It's the old troopers up the front who are pumping out times that are much quicker than last year. We all made it through and we're ready to fight another day."
The dry weather has certainly assisted the rear-wheel drive cars, and Jim Richards is happy to be in third place, just a solitary second off the lead in his Porsche 911 GT2.
"It's a great battle. Here we are on day two and there's only a few seconds between the top teams," he said.
"We're all going as fast as we can, and it's all good. I'd rather have it like this than be 30 seconds behind. We enjoyed the Sideling today, it was the fastest time we've ever done on that stage."
Tasmania's big hope, Jason White, set the fastest time on one stage, but has dropped back slightly, and is now 14 seconds adrift of the leaders. His GPS pacenoting system was abandoned this morning, forcing co-driver, his uncle, John White, to read the pacenotes from a quickly written up set of notes.
Competing in his first Targa, Western Australian Steve Jones is fifth in his Nissan GTR, setting the fastest time on the Elephant Saddle stage late in the day. He's half a minute clear of another Sandgroper, Dean Herridge, in a Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
In the Classic competition, Day One leader Ben Wooster still leads the pack in his Nissan Skyline GTR, but his advantage has been reduced to just 17 seconds by a charging Rex Broadbent in a 1974 Porsche 911.
Broadbent is suffering from the flu, but his health is improvng and he set the fastest time on six of the day's stages. Queenslander Wooster knows that he's a marked man.
"We've had a bit of a chequered day," Wooster said. "We over-cooked the brakes in the Sideling stage and we had to take it easy and pull our head in a little bit compared to yesterday.
"That's given the opposition a bit of a look at us. We just need to keep on doing what we're doing, and if that's good enough, it's good enough. If not, we're still having fun."
Early in the day Broadbent was resigned to finishing out of the podium places, but by day's end he had reassessed things.
"I'm starting to feel conscious again, and hopefully I'll keep improving for the rest of the week," the Victorian said.
"It's been good today because I think these types of stages suit the car. I haven't done a rally at all since Targa last year, and it's a bit intimidating getting onto the really high speed sections straight away.
I'm starting to feel more comfortable learning the car again. Yes, I've driven it quickly today, and now I'm back in tune."
In third place is Bill Pye in another 1974 Porsche, just 15 seconds behind adrift of Broadbent.
The Showroom class for stock standard cars has turned into an exciting battle between the all-singing, all-dancing Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9s and the front-wheel drive Mazda 3 MPSs.
Tamania's own Greg Johnston has maintained his lead in the class, but his closest rival, Tony Warren, suffered clutch problems late in the day and has dropped to fourth place in his Lancer.
That has seen the factory-backed Mazdas of Brendan Reeves and Rick Bates move into second and third place.
Johnston then lost time with a broken exhaust near the end of the arduous day, but is happy with his lead.
"We've had a bit of a rough and tumble day," he admitted. "We hit a bridge in Rossarden and ripped the exhaust system off our car, so we tipee-toed through the stage not knowing how much damage had been done to the car.
"The car was really noisy and we didn't know if we were on fire or not, because we had smoke in the cabin.
"Otherwise, it's been a fantastic day."
The Rookie Rallye for modern cars, which concluded today, was taken out by the Nissan Skyline GTR of Andrew Richmond, while Boat Harbour's Phil House won the classic section in his BMW Alpina.
Tomorrow sees the Targa competitors head towards Devonport for the event's central loop. Drivers will tackle eight stages totaling over 78 competitive kilometers, before returning back to Launceston's for the Targa Fest in George Street at 6pm.