THURSDAY, MARCH 15: Former Australian Rally Champion Murray Coote will spearhead a two-car works-assisted Mazda team in next month's Targa Tasmania event. Coote will drive a turbocharged Mazda MX-5 in the tarmac rally from April 18-26, and ...
THURSDAY, MARCH 15: Former Australian Rally Champion Murray Coote will spearhead a two-car works-assisted Mazda team in next month's Targa Tasmania event.
Coote will drive a turbocharged Mazda MX-5 in the tarmac rally from April 18-26, and Victorian-based Michael Taylor will race a normally-aspirated version of the four cylinder-powered, rear-drive car.
Mazda Motorsport Manager Alan Horsley is overseeing car preparations and will direct operations during the event, and both MX-5s are being entered under the MOTOR magazine banner.
Coote has raced Mazdas during the past 20 years and won the national rally title in 1988, but he has not contested Targa before. The 50-year-old Queenslander will be partnered in his Targa debut by Australian Rally Championship class-winning co-driver Anthony McLoughlin, from Brisbane, as navigator.
"I have always thought about doing Targa, but the opportunity never arose until now," said Coote. "Our aim will be to drive as quickly as we can and still get the car to the finish."
Horsley, who masterminded Mazda's three Bathurst 12-hour wins in the 1990s, said the company would use the Targa event to accelerate progress in the development program for its turbocharged MX-5 sports car, due on the Australian market this year.
"We started work on the turbo for the MX-5 a year ago, and it's going to provide a significant increase in engine performance without affecting the driveability of the car," said Horsley.
"The turbo MX-5 we're taking to Targa is the first one of its type, and the wide variety of conditions we will come across make this event a good test to assess our progress."
"On one hand we are going to Tasmania to learn some lessons, but at the same time if things go to plan the car will be very competitive in some of the Targa stages, especially in wet weather."
The total distance of the Targa event is 2110km, with 525km in 54 competitive stages, plus the prologue in George Town.
Taylor, News Editor at MOTOR magazine, will have Canberra-based 33-year-old training officer Lyndall Drake as navigator in the other MX-5.
Craig Fletcher, Motorsports Manager of Targa promoters Octagon Worldwide, said the two-car Mazda entry was further proof of the event's substantial growth this year in involvement by car manufacturers.
"Porsche, Lexus, and Toyota are back again, and Mercedes-Benz, Holden, and now Mazda have come on board this year, so Targa is definitely going from strength to strength," said Fletcher.
"We already have a good mix of manufacturers and big-name drivers, and there are one or two other major car companies interested who could provide even more depth and quality to the field."
High-profile drivers confirmed for Targa include five-times 500cc motorcycle world championship Michael Doohan, who will make his car racing debut in a Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG, multiple Bathurst 1000 and Australian Touring Car Championship winners Peter Brock (V8 Holden Ute) and Jim Richards (Porsche 911 turbo), and triple Australian Rally Champion Neal Bates (Lexus IS200).