Lining up for your first tilt at Australia’s ultimate tarmac rally – Targa Tasmania – can be a nerve wracking experience, but as a two-time World Champion in rowing, Simon Gillett knows what it takes to ready yourself for competition.

Having swapped the rowing shell for the cockpit, Gillett has quickly come to grips with rallying, as his recent seventh outright in Rally Tasmania highlights.

However, his assault on Targa Tasmania in 2008 is not only about proving to himself that he can mix it with the best in the sport, it’s about raising awareness of something that’s very dear to his heart – the Amy Gillett Foundation.

Gillett’s wife, Amy, an elite Australian cyclist, was tragically killed while training in Germany in 2005. Since then, the Amy Gillett Foundation has been formed to reduce the incidence of death and injury caused by the interaction between cyclists and motorists.

With Australia’s Formula 1 driver, Mark Webber, as its patron, the foundation has achieved much publicity since its inception, and Gillett hopes to spread the word further during Targa Tasmania.

“I’m obviously competing in Targa because I want to, but if we can use the car and this event to help promote the Amy Gillett Foundation, then that’s a huge bonus as well,” Gillett said.

Gillett’s car for Targa, a 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STI, has had all the rally modifications done to it, and while it makes its Targa debut this year, there’s little doubting that it has a talented man behind the wheel.

“Rally Tasmania was a great event leading into Targa. It gave me a good feel for the car on the Tasmanian roads.”

Together with co-driver Kathy Norton, Gillett is aiming for a top ten finish in Targa, but unlike many other drivers, he’s hoping for a wet event.

“I hope that it’s wet and nasty – that’ll help bring Jim Richards and his Porsche back to the field, and allow the four-wheel drive cars to compete evenly,” he added.

“It will also mean that tyre wear is reduced over the length of the event. We can only use four tyres (without penalty), and while we’ve chosen a hard compound Dunlop tyre that we think will do the job adequately, wet weather would help.”

There aren’t too many drivers who can take up a fast-paced, highly competitive sport such as rallying and finish well inside the top ten in their first special stage event but Simon Gillett did just that last month.

While his own goal may be to finish in the top ten at Targa Tasmania, commentators in the sport have already noted that Gillett is a talent to watch, and that with a good, clean run, he may well finish a lot higher up the leader board when the event reaches its climax.

Targa Tasmania has gained an international reputation since its first running in 1992 and continues to attract competitors from around Australia, the USA, UK, UAE, Japan and Hong Kong.

The event kicks off from Launceston on April 15 and will take competitors along some of the best roads in the world as they make their way to the Hobart finish line on April 20.
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