Michael Doohan debuts in Targa Tasmania

Australia's five-times 500cc motorcycle world champion Michael Doohan will make his motor racing debut driving a race-bred Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG in this year's Targa Tasmania tarmac rally. Doohan's entry in the Targa event from April 18-24...

Australia's five-times 500cc motorcycle world champion Michael Doohan will make his motor racing debut driving a race-bred Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG in this year's Targa Tasmania tarmac rally.

Doohan's entry in the Targa event from April 18-24 was announced today in Melbourne by the Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars, Mr Matthias Luehrs.

"This will be my first official car race and I'm looking forward to competing on four wheels for the first time because that's something different," said Doohan.

"I don't have any experience in this type of racing, but Mercedes-Benz and AMG are giving me a fantastic car and my expectations are to do the best I can."

Mr Luehrs said securing Doohan's services for the Targa event was a coup for the German manufacturer in its first factory-supported entry in the event since it began in 1992.

"Michael Doohan's performances and determination have made him a sporting legend, both in Australia and internationally, and we are delighted to have him with us for what will be an exciting new venture for both parties," said Mr Luehrs.

Mercedes-Benz has also signed a two-year sponsorship deal with Targa Tasmania to be the Official Vehicle Supplier of the Octagon-promoted event.

Doohan's high-performance coupe, with its eight-cylinder 255kW engine, was prepared by engineers at Mercedes-AMG in Germany, and arrived in Australia in late January.

The Targa covers 2,200km, with 500km of competitive driving over 54 stages, and will be contested by a field of more than 300 cars in four classes ranging from historic vehicles to late-model machines.

"This type of event (Targa Tasmania) appeals to me because it has a serious side, but without the pressure of a grand prix so I think you can really enjoy it and have a bit of fun," said Doohan.

"I'm keen to get in there and see what I can do, and also keep in mind what the race is all about."

The 35-year-old, who was forced to retire from 500cc grand prix competition in 1999 after being injured in a crash, said he felt it was appropriate that he made his racing debut on four wheels for Mercedes-Benz because he had a lengthy association with the German manufacturer and AMG.

He drives a Mercedes-Benz in Australia and in Europe, and he has participated in 'AMG Experience' days at the A1-Ring circuit in Austria. As well, he has twice attended the annual 'Stars and Cars' end-of-year function in Europe for Mercedes-Benz and AMG Formula One, Indy-Car, touring car, and truck racing drivers and team members.

"I've been to the AMG factory numerous times and I drive a Mercedes-Benz by choice, so I couldn't think of a better car for my first race," he said.

Doohan's car for the Targa features AMG factory modifications similar to the official CLK 55 AMG safety car used at Formula One grand prix events during 1998 and 1999. It includes changes to the brakes, suspension, and exhaust system. The engine management system frees up the electronic speed governing mechanism, allowing optimum performance and top speed from the 255kW powerplant.

Carbon Recaro racing seats are fitted inside the car, which has 8.5J x 18-inch wheels on the front and 10J x 18-inch on the rear. LG Electronics and Mobil 1 are the major vehicle sponsors for the CLK 55 AMG entered in this year's Targa Tasmania.

Doohan said that if time permitted he wanted to travel to Tasmania sometime before the Targa event and drive over the course.

"Ideally, I'd like to go down there, maybe in March, and get a feel for the roads because I think that would help me prepare," he said.

Doohan, who won 54 grands prix in 500cc racing until his forced retirement, was awarded the Order of Australia in 1996 and was Australia's Male Athlete of the Year in 1995-96-97.

He is second only to Italian Giacomo Agostini in the all-time number of 500cc titles won, and for race victories, since the world championship began in 1949. Agostini won eight titles and 68 races.

Doohan's career ended after he suffered a broken right shoulder and leg, and left wrist in a crash during qualifying for the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

He is still heavily involved at grand prix level in motorcycling as General Manager of Racing for Japanese manufacturer Honda, who he rode for in all 137 of his 500cc starts.

- Mike Porter

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Series Other rally
Drivers Giacomo Agostini