Australia’s best tarmac rally drivers will be in the Apple Isle on October 4 and 5 for the running of the Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge.

Formerly known as Rallye Burnie, the event will again be based in the north west of Tasmania, with former Bathurst 1000 winners, Jim Richards and Tony Longhurst, headlining the entry list.

Richards, a multiple Targa Tasmania winner, will again be Porsche mounted, while Longhurst will drive a locally-prepared Les Walkden Rallying Subaru Impreza WRX.

2008 Targa Tasmania winner, Steve Glenney, will also compete, but not in the Lancer Evo 9 that he was expected to pilot. Instead, the South Australian horse trainer will drive a 1989 Lancia Delta Integrale.

As usual, the event has attracted a wide range of makes, with the usual mix of Subarus, Mitsubishis and Porsches. Powerful four- and rear-wheel drive cars will compete against smaller engined, front-wheel drive cars.

For the first time, young Victorian driver, Brendan Reeves, will drive a factory supported Mazda3 MPS. Reeves, who recently impressed at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta in the World Rally Championship qualifying Rally New Zealand, is not expected to challenge for a top placing in the Mazda, but the works drive is a huge step in the 19 year old’s career.

Burnie favourite, Jamie Vandenberg, is the best local hope for a top placing this year after strong performances at the wheel of his Lancer Evo 9 at Targa and Rally Tasmania. With brother Simon calling the pacenotes, Vandenberg loves putting on a show for his home town fans and should feature strongly in the results.

The 11 stage Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge is also the fifth round of the Australian Rally Championship, with the two-car Toyota Rally Team set to make its debut in the event.

Reigning Australian Champion, Simon Evans, and current series points leader, Neal Bates, will thrill the crowds of spectators in their normally aspirated, four-wheel drive Corollas.

“I’ve been saying for five years that we need a tarmac event in the Australian Championship, so it’s great to finally have one,” Evans said.

“I quite enjoy driving on tarmac, even though in the past in ARC rounds it’s always been on Super Special stages where I’ve been putting on a show for the crowd. But once we get into a real tarmac rally, it will be neat and tidy and as fast as possible.”

Toyota’s main challenge for ARC honours will come from Michael Guest, driving a Les Walkden Rallying Subaru Impreza WRX, and Spencer Lowndes in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.

While those pushing for tarmac honours will know the exact vehicle set-up for their rally cars, the ARC regulars won’t be so at home. The Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge is the first full round of the national championship to ever be held on tarmac, and as a result, it will be a real learning curve for most.

However, most agree that the positives far outweigh the negatives of competing on “the black stuff” for the first time.

Legendary stages such as Hellyer Gorge and Savage River are sure to make the event one of the most enjoyable of the year, and should open a new era for the Australian Rally Championship.

The Tasmanian Tarmac Challenge is being conducted by MSR Corporate, with support from Burnie City Council, Events Tasmania, Xerox Shop Tasmania, The Advocate, Contel Communications, Waratah Wynyard Council, Les Walkden Enterprises and Motorsport Safety Rescue.

The entry list for the event is now available at: www.tarmacchallenge.com

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