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The son and father pairing of Paul and Mike Batten had a strong run on the 20th Anniversary Targa Tasmania in their 1961 Volvo PV544, but a fuel issue on the Cethana stage saw their chances of a third straight Classic victory run out.

A mostly dry event meant the team were never going to be chasing outright victory despite their 2nd place Classic Outright finish in last years wet event. Favourites for the Shannons Early Classic Competition, changes to the Handicap structure meant the challenge would be harder than ever.

Based in Launceston the first few days saw a tight battle unfolding in Shannons Early Classic. The team took a 5 second Early Classic lead from Paul Freestone’s Holden at the close of Day 3.

“We were going as quickly as we could but the Volvo is no Porsche and running on soft tyres the car got fairly loose at the end of the longer stages. I tried to manage the slip angles to minimise tyre wear. The roads have been good and the car’s strong. It’s just a matter of looking after our soft tyres and praying for rain,” said driver Paul.

Day 4 promised to be a good day based on previous years but it all came unstuck on the days 2nd stage Cethana when the Volvo ran out of fuel with 10km left in the stage. After checking the last fuel fill and rechecking the calculations the problem remained a mystery.

“We still haven’t been able to work out what happened,” said navigator Mike “We always fill the car at service and we should have had 10 litres in the tank when we finished the stage. The mystery is that 15 litres had gone missing.”

“We were really lucky were we stopped in the stage as it was the only place over 38 kilometres with any houses. I found a farmer half a kilometre up the road and ran back to the car with a jerry can in my hand,” said Paul.  

An alternator problem after the lunch break was quickly fixed before the drive out to the infamous West Coast stages, made more daunting by the looming black clouds.

Fortunes improved for the family pairing setting a string of excellent times as heavy rain set in.
“We won the Mount Black stage in Classic Outright, and were second behind Walter Röhrl’s Porsche on the final two stages. Finishing second to Walter, a double world rally champion was something special to us,” said Paul.

The final Day 5 saw the teams head from Strahan to Hobart to finish the event. Intermediate conditions meant that any lapse in concentration could be final. The Batten team posted strong times to continue their fight back. They eventually finished a commendable 5th Early Classic and 13th Outright.  

“If you take that one stage away we would of finished 1st Early Classic and 5th Classic Outright,” said Mike “We are pleased with that. It is the Volvo’s 50th birthday this year, and it amazes me how fast we go in it. There are a few purpose built classic super cars around but I don’t put the Volvo in the same league. The Volvo still runs mostly original suspension and steering, a 4 speed Volvo gearbox and a pushrod cast-iron 2 valve 4 cylinder engine. We run in the modified category because we stroked the engine to 2.4 litres.”

“It’s the first time I haven’t been on the podium at Targa but the feeling is still the same to finish. It’s an amazing event. It stretches my limits every time I come here, and you can only be grateful for the chance to compete,” said Paul. “Meeting Walter Röhrl is something I won’t forget.”

The fuel issue remains an unsolved mystery, but bad fuel economy later in the event points to an intermittent carburettor problem.
 
The team would like to thank their supporters – Seldom Seen Vehicles and Engineering, Volpro Engines, Stuckey Tyre Service and the service crew of Damien Reeves and Adam and Mark Smith.
 
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