Wooster, Weeks and White storm Targa
- 1st May 2009, 6:07pm
South Australian Kevin Weeks and Tasmanian Jason White have been the big movers on day three of Targa Tasmania, wrestling the lead off Tony Quinn and making it a Lamborghini 1-2 with two days of the event still to run.
In a day of high drama, eight-time winner, Jim Richards, crashed out of the event on the dayâ€™s fifth stage, putting the Targa legend on the sidelines for the first time in his 16 year history in the event.
The classic section is still led by Queenslander, Ben Wooster, but an off-road excursion in his Nissan Skyline GTS on the dayâ€™s first stage saw him have to work harder than expected to maintain his lead 20 second lead over the 1974 Porsche 911 of Rex Broadbent.
In the Showroom class, Greg Johnston continues to lead the way in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, well clear of the Mazda 3 MPS of 20-year old Victorian, Brendan Reeves.
The third day of the 18th Targa Tasmania started with wet roads for the first time this year, but the overnight rain quickly dissipated and clear skies prevailed for much of the day.
With his slight engine problems from yesterday all sorted, Kevin Weeks was the early mover, winning the opening stage and reducing the gap to overnight leader Tony Quinn. But it was the drama among the other event favourites that was creating all the interest.
Western Australian Steve Jones, the winner of last yearâ€™s Targa West, was lying fourth in his Nissan GTR until he crashed heavily on the Stoodley test. Co-driver Ruari Soutar-Dawson was uninjured, but Jones was taken to Launceston General Hospital for observation with back pain.
Two stages later, Jim Richards shocked onlookers when he hit a bank on the Paloona stage, damaging his Porscheâ€™s radiator beyond repair and retiring from the event for the first time.
"We hit a bank on a little second gear corner and broke the radiator,â€ Richards explained. â€œThe radiator's right at the front of the Porsche, so unfortunately we just rolled down the road and parked it an SOS point and waited for the truck to arrive to pick it up.
"These things happen, and they happen to other drivers. It's just a consequence of going in a rally; every now and then you make a little blue and hit something, I suppose."
"I turned into the corner in second gear, got to the middle of the corner and the car understeered off on all the gravel and mud that was on the road. But hey, 200 other cars got around the corner without hitting the bank, so I was obviously going a fraction too fast,â€ a philosophical Richards added.
"There's no excuses. The fact is that we hit the bank and no-one else did."
Back at the front of the field it was shaping into a ding-dong battle between the Lamborghinis of Weeks and White, and Quinnâ€™s Nissan.
Weeks moved ahead of Quinn, but local boy Jason White was the man on a mission. He set the fastest time on the final four stages and finished the day just three seconds from the lead, having started the day with a 16 second deficit.
Quinn remains a big threat, particularly with wet weather expected as the event moves from Launceston to Strahan on Saturday, before the final day into Hobart on Sunday.
"It's great to see two Lamborghinis at the top of the leader board,â€ Weeks said.
â€œWe really pulled all the stops out on Paloona, but that's Whitey's back yard. We didn't think anyone would beat us on that, but we got beaten by eight seconds, so you have to hand it to him, he did a sensational job on that stage. To stay in the lead we'll have to go faster tomorrow."
White feels that things are getting better the longer the event goes.
"We've made good progress with our pacenotes today, and things are really starting to click,â€ White said.
â€œJohn was a bit rusty on reading them at first, but it's not working well and the stages times are showing that.
â€œIt's a shame to see Jim out of the event, but we'd moved ahead of him before his problem. Having said that, if you get a chance to stand on a podium you want them standing below you, not having retired from the event."
After an overnight engine rebuild, Dean Herridgeâ€™s Subaru Impreza WRX has moved up to fourth place, but is over a minute and a half off a podium placing, but maintains a handy advantage over fifth placed Matt Close in a Porsche.
Classic category pacesetter, Ben Wooster, from Queensland, started the day with a 17 second lead over a charging Rex Broadbent, but it wasnâ€™t long before he found himself six seconds in arrears after going off the road on the second stage.
â€œWe came into the corner a bit hot and locked a brake,â€ the Nissan Skyline GTS driver explained. â€œWe had to make a decision on whether to take the corner, which I don't think was ever going to happen. I had to go through a fence, then out through some poor farmer's paddock, and then choose where I was going to come back out onto the road.â€
Fortunately his car was not damaged, and he regained his composure to storm back into the lead, finishing the day 28 seconds in front.
In second place, Broadbent has just a nine second advantage over the similar Porsche of Bill Pye, but with rain expected and Pyeâ€™s car set up for those conditions, the battle of the German cars is far from over.
Gavin James is fourth, with Porsches holding five of the top six positions in the classic field.
Showroom class leader Greg Johnston has had another solid day, with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 holding a one minute and nine second lead over the front-wheel drive Mazda3 MPS of the brother and sister pairing of Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Smyth.
Johnstonâ€™s four-wheel drive Lancer is using its extra traction to good effect, but Reeves and his team-mate, Rick Bates, are making up time on the longer stages, keeping Johnston on his toes.
Last yearâ€™s winner and runner-up in the Showroom class, Tony Warren and Scott Millar, lie in fourth and fifth place, but their hopes of repeating last yearâ€™s successes seem to be fading rapidly.
Day four of Targa Tasmania is the longest of the event, and sees the remaining competitors travel from Launceston to Strahan via eight stages totaling nearly 138 competitive kilometers. The highlights are two of the eventâ€™s most famous stages, Cethana and Hellyer Gorge.
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