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Having won the first Targa West, Mitsubishi Ralliart will be back chasing a second victory in September – and trying twice as hard.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart has entered the Evolution IX Mitsubishi Lancer it is campaigning this year in Australia’s burgeoning tarmac rally scene for Warwick Rooklyn and Linda Long to drive in the September 7-10 event.

It will be the first start on West Australian tarmac roads for the Sydney pair.

But local legend Ross Dunkerton, arguably Australia’s greatest rally driver who won the initial Targa West last year in a Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution VIII Lancer, will be there too in another turbocharged 2-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control)-engined, all-wheel-drive Evo IX – again with victorious co-driver Alan Stean.

They beat 58 other cars last September, including Subarus, Porsches, a 7-litre Holden Monaro and a multitude of other special vehicles.

A capacity field of 80 cars (10 of them Mitsubishi Lancer Evos) is already entered for this year, with many more exotic machines – including a Lamborghini, a Maserati, a De Tomaso and more Porsches.

Dunkerton is to spend a week in Melbourne soon at Mitsubishi Ralliart’s Dandenong headquarters assisting in the preparation of the Evo IX he has acquired.

Still smiling at the thought of being the initial Targa West winner, Dunkerton has had only a brief taste of an Evo IX at a drive day at Barbagallo Raceway and is eager to get his hands on his own.

Rooklyn and Long ran among the top three for much of this year’s Targa Tasmania in the TMR Evo IX but wound up sixth after a mandatory four-minute penalty when they were forced to change two tyres for the last day.

They have another trip to Tasmania for Rallye Burnie at the end of July before venturing to Perth for Targa West with the Evo IX that has been built to the new tarmac rally regulations and is similar to that in which TMR’s Scott Pedder and Glen Weston are among the pacesetters in the NEC Australian Rally Championship’s events on gravel.

However, the tarmac car does not have a restrictor on the turbocharger, giving it 30 per cent more power.

Rooklyn and Long admit they have a lot to learn about the WA event but have vowed to leave no stone unturned in researching it and doing a reconnaissance of the course.

There is a prologue on Thursday, September 7, to decide the starting order. Then, from the start at Forrest Place in the centre of Perth, there is three days of competition on closed bitumen public road special stages and at racetracks in and around the WA capital city, and in the surrounding shires of Chittering and Toodyay as well as the city of Swan.

Rooklyn and Long will have the benefit of TMR principal Alan Heaphy’s experience in having worked with Dunkerton on the first Targa West.

“Alan’s experience of the event, and his long and outstanding motor sport experience generally, will be invaluable,” Rooklyn said.

“Targa Tasmania this year was the first event for Linda and I with TMR, and our Evo IX was only finished days before we went there and we’d only had a day to get acquainted with it.

“We all gained a lot from working together on that week-long event with Alan and the crew he has assembled at TMR and by the time we get to the West we will have Rallye Burnie under our belts as well.

“We’ll be the best equipped we possibly can be.”

Rooklyn is a noted yachtsman as well as driver, with the distinction of having been the youngest winning skipper in the Sydney-Hobart classic - at 27 on Apollo in 1985.

His diversified motor sport career has included various forms of circuit racing, including two Formula Ford national titles, then a Formula Two gravel rally championship crown in 2002 before he turned to tarmac rallying.

Apart from Targa Tasmania, in which they came close to a podium finish in 2004 and consistently set top-five times in 2005 before a crash, Rooklyn and Long were second at last year’s Rallye Burnie and won NSW’s now-abandoned East Coast Targa in 2004 – all in their own Evolution VII Lancer

Feeling they had achieved as much as they could as privateers, they say it was “a great honor” to be invited to join TMR this year.

“The Evo VII was a fantastic car, but driving an Evo IX for the factory is something else!” Rooklyn said.

“The car’s speed and reliability in Targa Tasmania this year was outstanding, but we had chosen a tyre compound expecting considerably more rain than we got.

“The weather was just far too good for too long for the tyres we were on.

“We just didn’t expect it to stay dry for so long. Then the heavens opened just as the event was concluding, after we had been forced to change two tyres – and cop a four- minute penalty because of that.

“It was my fourth Targa Tasmania and Linda’s eighth, but it was our first event with the TMR guys and we all gelled really well.

“We’re all getting to know each other well in the team now and, while that’s hard to quantify, there is definitely speed in it.”

Apart from enjoying factory driver status, Rooklyn is excited at the prospect of competing in Targa West against the iconic Dunkerton – “a great champion”.

Now 60, Dunkerton has won 100 major gravel rallies, five national titles and two Asia-Pacific Championships, as well as many classic events in recent years.

In 2004, the first year of the new-look Mitsubishi Ralliart under Heaphy, Dunkerton made a comeback to win the national rally championship’s Australia Cup in an all-wheel-drive, automatic Mitsubishi Magna VR-X.

He had wanted to drive that Magna in the inaugural Targa West until he found Heaphy had an Evolution VIII Lancer available.

“Apart from the Magna, I hadn’t driven a four-wheel-drive car in competition since 1995,” Dunkerton said.

“The Evo VIII was a highly impressive unit.

“They tell me, and I’m sure, that the Evo IX is even better, which will be terrific.

“After all the things I’ve driven over 44 years in rallying, and now that I’ve got a ‘seniors card’, I like all these modern comforts … air-conditioning and CD players! They’re right up my alley.”

More seriously, Heaphy has identified tarmac rallying as a way for Mitsubishi Ralliart to compete against, and often upstage, exotic marques.

It is also a way for TMR to expand by helping to make motor sport more accessible and affordable for other competitors.

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