MONDAY, APRIL 16: Defending Targa Tasmania champion Jim Richards arrived in Launceston today and immediately declared the 2001 event starting on Wednesday would be the toughest to win in the 10-year history of the tarmac rally. Richards, who...
MONDAY, APRIL 16: Defending Targa Tasmania champion Jim Richards arrived in Launceston today and immediately declared the 2001 event starting on Wednesday would be the toughest to win in the 10-year history of the tarmac rally.
Richards, who will drive a Porsche 911 turbo in search of a record fifth Targa win, said this year's field of more than 280 cars was the strongest assembled since the rally began in 1992.
"There's big names like Mick Doohan and Peter Brock, and more depth of top-quality drivers and cars than we've ever had in a single Targa race before," said Richards. "I'm keen to win again, but there's some formidable opposition at the pointy end of the field."
Doohan, a five-times 500cc motorcycle world champion, will make his car racing debut in the six-day Targa rally in a Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG, and Brock, winner of the Bathurst 1000 on nine occasions, is driving a V8 Holden Ute.
Apart from Richards, other Targa winners entered are Neal Bates, also a triple Australian rally champion, in a Lexus IS200, Peter Fitzgerald in a Porsche 911, and Andrew Miedecke in a Dodge Viper.
Richards said he was also wary of challenges from 2001 Lactos-Heritage Rally Tasmania winner Tony Quinn, and Ray Lintott, both driving Porsches, and Warwick Freemantle in a Nissan Skyline GTS.
"In reality any of these guys, and maybe others, could win this year," said Richards. "This is a long race and so many things can happen so it's impossible to predict the result."
"I've won Targa a few times before, but I don't consider myself the favourite -- all it takes is a crash or a tyre problem, which can happen to anyone, and you're history."
The 53-year-old Melbourne-based New Zealander, who has won the Australian Touring Car Championship five times and the Bathurst 1000 on six occasions, will team up with Tasmania's Barry Oliver as his Targa navigator for the eighth successive year.
This year's rally begins with the Temco Prologue in George Town, and comprises a total distance of 2,110km, with 525km in 54 competitive stages
Richards took delivery of his four-wheel-drive Porsche from Germany toward the end of 2000, and the car generates about 450-horsepower in race trim.
"I've done all the preparation on the car myself, such as fitting the roll cage, navigation instruments and fire extinguishers, plus new brake pads and wheels," he said.
"I also spent a couple of days in 'Tassie' in early March driving over most about 40 stages on the (Targa) course, so we're as ready as we've ever been compared to past years.
Richards said that Targa was his favourite motorsport event in Australia.
"You're up against different roads and conditions every day, and the variety is what appeals to me," said Richards. "It's fantastic to see how Targa has grown, especially with the increase in 'name' drivers and manufacturer entries this year."
The 2001 rally has attracted seven manufactyurers with factory-backed cars -- Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Holden, Ford, Mazda, Lexus, and Toyota.
Targa Tasmania 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.