Victorian drivers look like being the men to catch in the Early Modern competition of this week’s inaugural Targa High Country.

The event gets underway on Friday at Mansfield in Victoria’s north east, concluding at Mt Buller on Sunday afternoon after 17 stages and over 200 kilometres of competitive driving.

Andrew Richmond, Gavin James and Matt Walsh are all well credentialed tarmac rally drivers, and each will be hoping to lift the Targa High Country trophy aloft after three days of fierce competition.

Driving a 2001 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec, Braeside’s Andrew Richmond has had a rapid rise in the ranks of tarmac rallying.

He won the 2009 Targa Tasmania Rookie Rally, then followed that up with the coveted Early Modern competition victory in the 2010 edition of the event.

But his victory didn’t come without a cost. He hit a tree mid-way through Targa Tasmania and has since had to build a new car from the ground up.

“We’ve got a brand new car that has all the good bits from the old car, but it now weighs 150 kilograms less,” an excited Richmond said.

“The old car was really just a road car with a roll cage, and had air conditioning, a DVD player and other stuff that is not needed for Targa events.

“In theory it should be a lot faster, but we’ve done very few testing kilometres in the car, so it will be pretty much an unknown quantity at the start.”

Ballarat’s Gavin James has contested the past 10 editions of Targa Tasmania in a row and lacks nothing for experience.

His 1989 Porsche 944 S2 was on track for the Early Modern victory earlier this year until mechanical gremlins intervened, and he’s eager to climb to the top of the winner’s rostrum.

“For my Porsche, the higher the altitude and the twistier and windier the stages are, the better,” James says. “Being a new event, Targa High Country will certainly throw up a few challenges, so we need to make sure we use common sense and not push too hard.

“Having said that, it’s important to get some points in the bag for the Australian Targa Championship.

“Being bought up in Ballarat, I’d prefer the weather to be wet for the whole event, but we’ll take whatever we’re given and hopefully we can finish with a good result.”

Matt Welsh hasn’t competed in a Targa event since 2009, but on that occasion he drove his 1994 BMW M3R to a fine third place in his class.

While he may be lacking in recent practice, his speed is unquestioned and the crisp sounding BMW may be a real dark horse among the increasingly popular Early Modern competition.

Another driver who will be one to watch and could push for victory is 2010 Targa Tasmania Rookie Rally winner Adam Newton, in a 1997 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV RS. Another Victorian, Newton showed good speed in Tasmania and is expected to push for a podium finish.

“With the strength of the Early Modern field we’re going to have our work cut out getting to, and staying at, the front, but we’re confident of a good result regardless,” Newton said.

The Targa High Country field includes competitions for cars in the Early Classic, Late Classic, Early Modern, Modern and Showroom classes with most major makes of vehicle represented.

After a 3.5 kilometre street stage in Mansfield on Friday afternoon, the event consists of eight Targa stages on Saturday and Sunday with a total competitive distance of 213 kilometres.
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