AUS: Targa Tasmania Shannons Classic summary

ROOKIES WIN SHANNONS CLASSIC COMPETITION In what was their Targa Tasmania debut, winning the Shannons Classic Competition in a car built only two years ago is a dream come true for Victorian business-partners Michael Conway and Simon ...

ROOKIES WIN SHANNONS CLASSIC COMPETITION

In what was their Targa Tasmania debut, winning the Shannons Classic Competition in a car built only two years ago is a dream come true for Victorian business-partners Michael Conway and Simon Gardiner.

Built in 2003 the reconstructed 1977 Ford Escort MK2 RS2000, jointly owned by the driver and navigator combo, has since run in back-to-back in Classic Adelaides with a win in the event's Heritage section in 2004.

Continuing their recent winning streak, Conway guided by Gardiner, drove the RS2000 to victory in the 2005 Targa Tasmania tarmac rally finishing 2-minutes 24-seconds ahead of 2003 winners Graham Copeland and Jon Siddins in their 1970 Datsun 240Z. Ian Morris and Alex Molocznyk rounded out the top three in a 1981 Alfa Romeo GTV6, a further 1-minute 24-seconds behind.

"We still can't believe we won. Mike and I have been walking around for days feeling dazed," said Gardiner. "The Escort had been very fast out of the box and it was very satisfying that it performed as predicted."

The battle in the Shannons Classic Competition was hard-fought with only seconds separating the top two teams at the close of competition each day. Conway and Gardiner sat firm on the heels of New South Wales team Bill Pye and Grant Geelan in their 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera, until the leading Porsche-powered duo were handed a 10-minute speeding penalty on the fifth and final day of the event, pushing them further down the pack to finish sixth outright. The path was then cleared for Conway and Gardiner to charge through to the top spot.

The 2005 Targa Tasmania Classic champions were almost not so, initially listed as service crew for fellow Victorians, Brian and Linda Dermott. With four weeks to go until the start of the competition, the Ford-flavoured duo bit the bullet and entered their Escort, embarking upon their own Targa Tasmania campaign -- but not foregoing their service crew responsibilities to the Austin Healy husband and wife combo.

"I think we were finally struck by 'carpe diem' (sieze the day) fever, we had a car almost ready to go and we just needed to hide the Visa receipts for a couple of months," said Gardiner.

"Targa has always been the one to win, a real endurance event. This event more than any other, requires great focus."

Co-owners of Powerplay Automotive in Victoria, Conway and Gardiner put their creation to the test, guiding their ride to victory through unimaginable weather conditions including snow, rain and sleet.

"On the last day on the 48km long Mt Arrowsmith stage, we had black ice, intermittent rain and snow. We passed four Porsches, it was the most amazing and also the scariest stage we had done."

With a starting field of 252 teams for the event's Prologue, the treacherous Tasmanian roads proved challenging for a number of competitors with over 20 cars experiencing off-road excursions on the last two days of competition. It seemed just staying on the road, while facing the right way, proved a rigorous test of skill and driving ability for the remaining 205 starters on the final day of competition.

"Mt Arrowsmith sums up the consistent commitment required to place well in this event. Just finishing Targa Tasmania for any car and crew is a great achievement, let alone to go fast," said Conway.

Already in preparation for a title reclaim at next year's event, Conway and Gardiner are confident their fiery little Escort can step up to the plate and deliver yet another win for the team -- who are rookies no longer.

"We would love to come back to defend this win. We now have two major wins under our belt and hope to attract some sponsorship to allow us to get out there and have a higher profile."

<pre> SHANNONS CLASSIC COMPETITION

POS  CREWS                                      MODEL                           PENALTY TIME
1    Michael Conway, VIC, Simon Gardiner, VIC   1977 Ford Escort MK2 RS2000     20:08
2    Graham Copeland, QLD, Jon Siddins, QLD     1970 Datsun 240Z                22:32
3    Ian Morris, VIC,  Alex Molocznyk, QLD      1981 Alfa Romeo GTV6            24:10
4    Geoff Taylor, VIC, Lee Harper, VIC         1974 Porsche 911 Carrera        24:15
5    Greg Cook, VIC, Roy Baumgarth, VIC         1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS     27:50

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Series Other rally
Drivers Bill Pye