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A host of experienced tarmac racers with the biggest credentials in rallying will be battling it out for victory in this weekend’s Rally Tasmania, which starts in the north west city of Burnie on Friday afternoon.

Drivers like Jim Richards, Tony Longhurst and Tony Quinn are all household names in Australian motorsport, and are all in with a chance of victory in the popular Tasmanian tarmac rally.

Richards remains the benchmark in the sport. The former Kiwi has been at the top of the tree in Australian motor racing for over three decades, and his dominance shows little sign of waning.

While he’s won Bathurst on seven occasions, it’s his success in tarmac rallying that has given him the biggest headlines in recent years, with a string of successes at Targa Tasmania, and in Rally Tasmania.

But Richards and local co-driver, Barry Oliver, will be praying for dry conditions in their rear-wheel drive Porsche 911 GT2, with the turbocharged, four-wheel drive cars looking unbeatable in the wet.

Rivals such as Tony Longhurst (Subaru), Tony Quinn (Nissan) and Jamie Vandenberg (Mitsubishi) know Richards will slip out of the equation if rain falls across any of the three days.

Longhurst, a two-time Bathurst winner, was equal first in last year’s Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge and is in hot form. He’ll again be at the wheel of a Les Walkden Rallying prepared Subaru Impreza WRX, and will be happy with nothing other than outright victory.

Similarly, the new “Godzilla” Nissan GTR of circuit racing veteran Tony Quinn is another in with a real shot of victory.

The big Nissan showed incredible speed in the hands of Quinn at the recent Targa Wrest Point event near Hobart, and Quinn should be considered a real winning chance.

Local Burnie hopes for victory rest with the Vandenberg brothers, Jamie and Simon. Their Lancer Evo IX is continually being improved, and as they become more and more accustomed to the car, their speed is increasing.

Equal first with Longhurst in the last tarmac rally in Burnie, Jamie Vandenberg also has plenty of confidence heading into the rally, and should use his considerable local knowledge to his advantage. With strong local support, the likeable Vandenberg is expected to impress.

Others, including Barrie Smith (Mitsubishi), Simon Gillett (Subaru) and Peter Leemhuis (Nissan) will also be in with a chance of podium placings, ensuring the pressure is right on the drivers at the head of the field.

The Classic car section of the event, for cars pre-1983, will also see some fascinating duals.
Rear-wheel drive and normally aspirated, the Classics are always a favourite with the fans.

This year will be no exception, with the thundering, 700 horsepower, V8 De Tomaso Pantera of Queenslander Keith Callinan leading the way.

A tarmac rallying veteran, “KC” will be one of the favourites. The black beast has been fragile and known to mechanical failures in the past, but its speed is unquestionable.

Snapping at his heels will be a host of drivers, headed by the Porsche 911s of Kevin Weeks and Roger Patterson, and Brett Kay in a Mazda RX7.

Weeks has the results on the board to make him the man to watch.

Normally at the wheel of a Lamborghini, he has switched to a Porsche for classic rallies, winning the Classic Adelaide event at the end of last year. He’ll be hoping to take that form into this weekend’s event.

Kay won the Classic section the last time he competed around Burnie, in October last year, and is expected to continue that good form. If the weather’s wet, then his chances should improve significantly in the nimble Mazda, where his horsepower disadvantage against the more powerful cars won’t be as pronounced.

Fifty cars will face the starter in the centre of Burnie on Friday afternoon, with fine weather predicted for the event.

Day One sees three stages to kick off the event. Saturday is the rally’s biggest day, with eight stages over 116 competitive kilometres, while a further eight stages (72 kilometres) make up Sunday’s schedule.
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