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As part of the expansion of its rallying activities into tarmac events, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart has entered Tasmania’s Rallye Burnie.

Warwick Rooklyn and Linda Long will drive the team’s Evolution IX Mitsubishi Lancer that has been built to the new tarmac rally regulations in the two-day event on the island state’s north-west coast at the end of July.

It is the all-wheel-drive, turbocharged 2-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control)-engined Evo IX Lancer in which Sydney pair Rooklyn and Long ran among the top three for much of the recent Targa Tasmania.

Mitsubishi is the best represented manufacturer in the Rallye Burnie field with 10 Evo Lancers, including five Evo IXs, among the 31 entries so far.

The Mitsubishi entrants include Peter Brown and Nicole Locker, from the NSW Central Coast, in the Evo IX in which they won the showroom car class of Targa Tasmania and finished 15th outright in the 15th anniversary running of Australia’s premier tarmac rally.

TMR’s Evo IX was often as quick as the winning Porsche of Jim Richards and Barry Oliver in Targa but it finished sixth after a mandatory four-minute penalty when Rooklyn and Long were forced to change two tyres for the final day.

TMR principal Alan Heaphy is excited about returning to Tasmania for Rallye Burnie for two reasons – to compete with the team’s own car again, and to see the strength of the Mitsubishi entry in another tarmac rally.

Heaphy has identified tarmac rallying as a way for TMR to compete against, and sometimes upstage, exotic marques.

He also believes it to be a way for TMR to expand by helping to make motor sport more accessible and affordable for other competitors.

“It is really important that people who want to do motor sport can do it in an affordable way, have enjoyment, and – as Peter Brown and Nicole Locker did on Targa – have success,” Heaphy said.

Several other Mitsubishi Lancer Evos competed in Targa, with one Evo IX driven by former grand prix motorcycle racer turned television commentator, Daryl Beattie, with Channel 10’s executive producer of motor sport, Scott Young, as his co-driver.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd’s President and CEO, Robert McEniry, has said that motorsport is at the heart of the marque’s brand values. “I certainly believe that success in motorsport translates into success in the showroom,” Mr McEniry said.

Unlike the week-long, 2,100km Targa Tasmania, Rallye Burnie is 400km with 130km of competition in 14 stages – 10 on Saturday, July 29, and four on Sunday, July 30 – in spectacular mountain and valley areas south of Burnie.

Rooklyn says its format is more like a round of the NEC Computers Australian Rally Championship except that it is on sealed roads rather than gravel.

TMR entered Rallye Burnie after it was regrettably forced to skip Victoria’s new tarmac event, the Lake Mountain Sprint, in late May because it had to give top priority to rebuilding its other Evo IX Lancer for the Queensland round of the ARC.

That Evo IX had been rolled in the West Australian round of the ARC but is “as good as new” for Scott Pedder and Glen Weston to drive at Coates Rally Queensland on the Sunshine Coast this weekend.

Rooklyn and Long finished second in Rallye Burnie last year in Rooklyn’s own Evolution VII Mitsubishi Lancer, 2 minutes 19 seconds behind Richards and Oliver in a Porsche.

While Richards and Oliver will be back again this time in another Porsche, Tasmanians Jason and John White, who won the first Rallye Burnie in a Nissan GTR in 2004 and return this year in a Lamborghini, are the likely favorites.

Apart from the Rooklyn-Long and Brown-Locker Mitsubishis, the other three Evo IXs entered will be driven by Tasmanians Greg Johnston and Jeff Keyte and NSW’s Martin Higgins.

The other five Mitsubishis in the field are the Evo VIII of Victorian GTP racer Gary Young, Evo VIs to be driven by Daniel Schulz from Victoria and Jack Crocker of Queensland, the Evo V of Tasmanian rally champion brothers Jamie and Simon Vandenberg, and an Evo IV driven by David Catchpole of NSW.

TMR’s 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, and last year’s second at Rallye Burnie, Rooklyn and Long won the 2004 East Coast Targa in the Evo VII.

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 great car, but driving an Evo IX for the factory is something else!” Rooklyn said.

“The car’s speed and reliability in Targa 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 really looking forward now to getting back to Tassie for Rallye Burnie.

“It’s a much shorter, more franctic rally than Targa.

“Every tenth (of a second) and every stage really count.

“And there are some really tricky stages, especially Hellyer Gorge!”

TMR is also entering the Evo IX for Rooklyn and Long to drive in Targa West in Western Australia on September 9-10.

Iconic WA rally driver Ross Dunkerton won the initial Targa West last September in an Evo VIII Mitsubishi Lancer.

TMR is now in its third year under the leadership of Heaphy, the renowned touring and sports car engineer and team manager who worked with Mark Skaife, Jim Richards, Craig Lowndes and Wayne Gardner in V8 Supercar racing.

Heaphy returned to his roots in rallying in 2004, taking the helm at a new-look TMR which began by campaigning a pair of automatic all-wheel-drive Magna VR-Xs that ran almost faultlessly and took Dunkerton to the Australia Cup that year.

Last year was TMR’s first as an outright contender in the ARC and, with Pedder and Weston in an Evo VIII, it won the South Australian round of the championship, finished runner-up in the Tasmanian round in the Huon Valley, and in the top three in seven of the 12 heats.

Pedder was second in the 2004 championship until an unfortunate crash in the first heat of the final round at Bathurst, NSW, saw him finish fourth in the most competitive Group N (showroom production) rally championship in the world.

Pedder and Weston stand fourth in the driver and co-driver championships this season after their share of misfortunes in the Canberra and West Australian rounds but are hopeful of realising the Evo IX’s potential at this weekend’s Queensland round.

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