Tarmac: Targa Tasmania Prologue report

Richards sets early pace in Targa Tasmania Eight-time Targa Tasmania winner, Jim Richards, once again looks like the man to beat in the Modern car section of the tarmac rally after setting the pace in the official Prologue, held around the...

Richards sets early pace in Targa Tasmania

Eight-time Targa Tasmania winner, Jim Richards, once again looks like the man to beat in the Modern car section of the tarmac rally after setting the pace in the official Prologue, held around the streets of George Town on the north coast of Tasmania.

Victorian Gary Tierney was the quickest in the Classic category in his 1974 Porsche 911 RS, while reigning Bathurst 12-Hour winner, Rod Salmon, was the fastest of the Showroom class field in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10.

Driving a Porsche 911 GT2, Richards was 1.35 seconds faster than another Porsche, driven by Victorian Matt Close, over the twisting 4.5 kilometre street stage.

The veteran is hoping for a dry event to give him the best possible chance of taking a ninth win, and the weather gods are looking on his side at this stage.

Local favourite, Burnie's Jason White, in a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, was third, ahead of the similar car of Kevin Weeks and the Nissan GTR of West Australian Steve Jones.

Thousands of spectators lined the route of the stage, which got the 18th running of the tarmac classic started under cool, but clear blue skies.

More than 250 cars started the event, but for 2008 Targa winner, Steve Glenney, it was not the start he had hoped for. His brand new Mazda RX8 SP lost turbo pressure during the stage, and he finished a disappointing 50th. However, the Mazda mechanics will repair the car, ensuring he will start tomorrow's nine stages still in with a chance of repeating his victory.

Richards was happy with the result, but well ahead of the challenge ahead.

"Things went as good as it could on Prologue day," Richards said.

"Our time was quicker than last year on this stage, but the car was only three weeks old last year. We've changed the suspension and put different springs in it since then.

"But today's stage means nothing really. We'll always be competitive if it's dry, but if it's damp, slippery and wet we won't be."

The winner of the Classics for the past two years, Rex Broadbent, was forced to miss today's Prologue after falling ill overnight. The Porsche driver will be allowed to start the event tomorrow morning.

His absence allowed Gary Tierney to take a 1.15 second stage win over the 1977 Holden Torana A9X of local Launceston driver David Cooper. Gavin James was less than half a second further back in third place, at the wheel of a Porsche 944 S2.

Another pre-event favourite, Bill Pye, lies in fifth place after a steady run in his Porsche.

"We're very happy," said Tierney. "It's the same car as we ran last year and it appears we're about 11 seconds faster, which is good.

"We have built a new engine in the last 12 months, and obviously that's helped. We're looking forward to the rest of the week, and we may even get lucky and have nice weather. While our car is nice in the wet, the driver is better in the dry."

Sydney's Rod Salmon is less than two seconds clear of a pair of front-wheel drive Mazda 3 MPSs, driven by young 20-year old Brendan Reeves, and veteran Rick Bates.

The dry conditions will suit the little Mazdas, and the four-wheel drive, turbocharged cars will need to be driven to the limit if they are to stay ahead.

Today's Prologue stage determines the start order for the first real day of Targa Tasmania, which gets underway from the Launceston Country Club tomorrow morning. Nine stages lie ahead of the competitors, before they return to Launceston tomorrow afternoon.

-credit: tt

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