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Mitsubishi upstaged allcomers in the first Targa West a year ago and is in even better shape as it defends its title against a bigger and stronger field in this week’s second running of Western Australia’s prestigious tarmac rally.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart’s all-wheel-drive Evolution IX Mitsubishi Lancer with its turbocharged 2-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic lift and Control) engine will be driven by Warwick Rooklyn with Linda Long as his co-driver.

WA rallying icon Ross Dunkerton, who won the first Targa West in an Evolution VIII Mitsubishi Lancer, has an Evo IX too for this year and will be partnered again by Alan Stean.

Built to the new tarmac rally regulations, these Evo IXs are similar to that in which Team Mitsubishi Ralliart’s Scott Pedder and Glen Weston have won three gravel heats of this year’s NEC Australian Rally Championship.

However, the tarmac Evos do not have a restrictor on the turbocharger, giving them 30 per cent more power than the gravel version.

Thirteen other Mitsubishi Evos, including three more Evo IXs, and one of Mitsubishi’s new Ralliart Colts are among the 85 cars entered for the four-day Targa West on closed bitumen public road special stages and at racetracks in and around Perth.

The field includes many exotic marques – almost 20 Porsches, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Maserati, a De Tomaso Pantera, and a Daytona Coupe driven by Peter Brock.

The most direct rivals for the Rooklyn and Dunkerton Evo IXs though will be the Subaru Impreza of Dean Herridge and the Subaru Legacy driven by Herridge’s father Rob.

For Sydneysider Rooklyn, an accomplished yachtsman (he was the youngest line honors-winning skipper in the Sydney-Hobart classic) as well as driver, it is his first taste of Targa West.

He and Long ran among the top three for much of this year’s 15th anniversary Targa Tasmania in the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart 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 then had an unfortunate early exit from Tasmania’s Rallye Burnie in July but the Evo IX has been through a major rebuild for Targa West.

“We are confident the car can do the job, and in our ability to do well,” Rooklyn said. “It’s a real quality field, so we aren’t making any predictions about the result. We will just do our best.

“The car is pretty much as it has been for the other tarmac rallies, with just some minor changes for balance.”

Rooklyn said after reconnaissance of the course that it comprised “some traditional stages of medium speed and others that are really fast”. Indeed, the organisers have had to install chicances on the faster stages to ensure speeds are contained to the 132km average limit imposed by international motor sport authorities for tarmac rallies.

Home-town hero Dunkerton’s strategic drive last year was rewarded with victory but he said “the bar has been raised this year”.

“There are a lot of potential winners in this field – at least six or seven, probably more,” Dunkerton said.

He spent a week at Mitsubishi Ralliart’s Melbourne headquarters and another week in Perth since preparing his Evo IX for the event but said his only experience of driving this model was brief and several months ago.

Although he has won 100 major gravel rallies, five national titles and two Asia-Pacific championships, as well as many classic rallies in recent years, Targa West 2006 will be only Dunkerton’s third tarmac event.

“I did the first Targa in New Zealand in 2002 and Targa West last year, so this tarmac competition is still pretty new to me,” Dunkerton said.

“It’s very different to gravel rallying because you get a much higher finishing rate – and that makes it harder to win.”

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart principal Alan Heaphy said the Rooklyn and Dunkerton Evo IXs were “pretty much identical, except for some different suspension components and different front brake packages”.

Heaphy, a renowned touring and sports car engineer and team manager before returning to his roots in rallying in 2004, has identified tarmac rallying as a way for Mitsubishi Ralliart to compete against, and often upstage, exotic marques.
He said it was also a way for Ralliart to help make motor sport more accessible and affordable for other competitors.

Targa West begins with a prologue on Thursday to decide the starting order, followed by 227km of competition in 30 special stages in and around Perth from Friday until Sunday.

Among the starters are television personalities Grant Denyer and Glenn Ridge in a Mini Cooper S and Mazda RX7 respectively. Dunkerton’s wife, Lisa, is the co-driver in a Porsche GT3 driven by Kim Ledger, father of actor Heath.

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