FRIDAY, APRIL 13: Motorcycle legend Michael Doohan's preparation for his car racing debut next week in the Targa Tasmania tarmac rally has been helped by leading touring car drivers Paul Morris and Russell Ingall. Morris, a four-time Australian...
FRIDAY, APRIL 13: Motorcycle legend Michael Doohan's preparation for his car racing debut next week in the Targa Tasmania tarmac rally has been helped by leading touring car drivers Paul Morris and Russell Ingall.
Morris, a four-time Australian Super Touring Champion, and dual Bathurst 1000 winner Ingall were at Melbourne's Sandown Raceway on Thursday when Doohan completed his preparations for Targa with a 40-lap test session in the Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG he will drive in the rally from April 18-24.
"I don't have a lot of experience, so it was good to have some input from Paul (Morris) and Russell (Ingall)," said Doohan. "It definitely helped me because they had some different ideas on the way to drive the car and also the set-up."
"We changed the brakes, suspension, and transmission control unit to make the car more comfortable to drive. I'm trying to be smooth with the corner speed. This (Targa) is something you run at about 80-percent everywhere."
The five-times 500cc world champion, who was forced to retire from motorcycle racing in 1999 because of injuries, said the test at Sandown had been valuable because it was his first and only opportunity before Targa to drive the Mercedes-Benz he will race in the event.
"It gave me a chance to get a good feel for the car, and to find the braking limits, and how much understeer and oversteer it can handle," said Doohan.
Doohan said he felt reasonably well prepared for Targa, after the test at Sandown and a four-day visit to Tasmania in March to drive over sections of the course with navigator Mark Stacey, who won the Australian Rally Championship title in 2000 with Possum Bourne in a works Subaru.
"This is my first car race and I want to finish," said Doohan. "I'll treat it as it is. We're not as ready as some teams, but for what we expect to do we're fairly ready."
"On the trip to Tasmania I got the chance to work on how to use pace notes, and I'm really happy with that because Mark (Stacey) makes it easy to understand. I don't see any problem there."
"It was also good to see the Tasmanian roads. They're country roads and they vary from east to west. A lot of it seemed like general mountain-type roads."
Doohan's V8-powered coupe was prepared by engineers at Mercedes-AMG in Germany, and is built to 1998-99 Formula One pace car specifications, with changes to the brakes, suspension and exhaust system. The engine management system frees up the electronic speed governing mechanism, allowing optimum performance and speed from the 255kW powerplant.
Although Doohan is retired from two-wheel racing, he remains involved in the motorcycle grand prix world championship as General Manager of Racing for Honda Racing Corporation.
The 35-year-old, who won 54 grand prix races for Honda, was at this year's motorcycle world championship-opener at Suzuka on April 8. He said he had been impressed with Italian Valentino Rossi's victory in the 500cc race, which provided Honda with their 500th grand prix victory.
"You don't win the championship in the first race of the season, but Valentino seems to have gone up a level and now we will see what the others can do," said Doohan.
The Targa rally, which comprises 2,110km of driving with 525km in 54 competitive stages, begins with the Temco Prologue at George Town.
Apart from Doohan, other high-profile drivers entered include defending Targa champion Jim Richards in a Porsche 911 turbo, nine-times Bathurst 1000 winner Peter Brock in a V8 Holden Ute, and former Australian Rally Champions Neal Bates in a Lexus IS200 and Murray Coote in a Mazda MX-5 turbo. Victorian Steve Hoinville will drive a factory-backed Ford Falcon XR6, and 1994 Targa winner Andrew Miedecke will be behind the wheel of a Dodge Viper.
The Targa event, which has attracted more than 280 entries, is owned and produced by global sports marketing company Octagon Worldwide, the sports marketing and entertainment division of the Interpublic Group, one of the world's largest advertising and marketing communications groups.