It?s that time of year again: the weather is turning colder, the football season is in full swing, F1 is heating up and, for one week, the island of Tasmania is alive with the sounds of screaming engines and tyres. Yes fans, it is Targa Tasmania time.
For those who haven?t heard, Targa Tasmania is now a world-famous tarmac racing event run over five days around the Australian island State. (Best to check out the new Eric Bana film, The Beast - it gives a great insight into ?the Targa?.)
Competition kicks-off with the prologue event in the seaside town of George Town, just outside of Launceston in the State?s north.
The prologue is used to determine the starting order for the next five days of competition, with the quickest car being the last to start each day and the slower and classic cars running at the head of the field.
Victorian Matt Close has won the prologue the past two years in his 2000 Porsche Turbo; with a new navigator Cameron Reeves in next to him, can Close take out the trifecta?
Some of the regular faces from previous years are back in 2009 for another go at the title; eight-time winner Jim Richards is back in the Porsche 911 GT2 to look at adding another win to his collection of trophies.
South Australian horse trainer Steve Glenney, who took out last year?s event and earlier in the year won the modern classic section of the inaugural Targa Wrest Point (a sister event to Targa Tasmania, but based in the State?s south) is also back this year for another shot at the title.
This time, he has left the Evo and the Commodore at home and is driving for the Mazda Australia team.
Glenney and co-driver Bernie Webb will be in a specially-built turbo-charged Mazda RX-8 which has been prepared by legendary Mazda engineer Alan Horsley.
Glenney won?t be alone driving for Mazda as the team is also giving its current shape Mazda3 MPS one last run at the event before the new model arrives later in the year.
Sitting behind the wheel in one of the two MPSs will be young Victorian rally sensation Brendan Reeves with his sister Rhianon Smyth sitting alongside him.
Also joining Reeves in a Mazda3 MPS is a name synonymous with both tarmac and gravel rallying, Rick Bates. Alongside Bates, Anthony McLoughlin will be calling the corners.
A couple of locals will also be taking it to the big name interstate drivers. Local brothers from the north west coast, Jason and Simon Vandenberg driving a Lancer Evolution IX, will be in among the top runners with local knowledge expected to be a big advantage over some of the Targa?s more challenging stages.
Another local who will fight for the top of the leader-board is Launceston?s Jason White with his uncle John White, back again this year in the awesome Lamborghini Gallardo Supperleggera.
White was fighting for a top-three finish in this event last year before mechanical problems sidelined his challenge.
West Australian rally ace Dean Herridge is also back this year in a new-shape 2008 Subaru WRX STI. Herridge, who finished third in last year?s event, will be one to watch. He was setting some great times earlier in the year at the Wrest Point event.
With rain forecast, two challengers who will be glad to see the wet roads will be Tony Quinn and his navigator Naomi Tillett, who won Rally Tasmania earlier in the year.
They are favorites going into the event in their Nissan GTR which, with its all-wheel-drive and enormous power, will be the car to beat in the wet.
Another GTR that is a dark horse in this year?s Targa will be that of West Australian Steve Jones. Jones won Targa West in the same car last year and has spent considerable time in Tasmania in the lead-up to the event working on his pace notes.
Lotus cars Australia is another manufacturer to field a car in this year?s event.
The new Lotus Exige Cup 260 will have its world motorsport debut this week. The 260 is the new motorsport variant of the Exige S, with more power and less weight through extensive use of carbon-fibre.
It comes fully race-prepared with a roll cage, fire extinguisher and battery cut-out systems, race suspension and brakes. The Cup 260 will be driven by Dean Evans, editor of Tarmac Magazine. Alongside Evans will be Simone Bachmann on the notes.
This is Lotus?s first-ever factory-backed entry in the event and this team will be interesting to watch as a result.
Evans, who is no beginner when it comes to racing cars, has competed in numerous circuit racing events and tarmac rallies over many years. You only have to see the below footage of Evans going from last place to first place in just one lap of the Bathurst race circuit in a Lotus Elise to get a picture of his skills as a steerer.
The event kicks off officially on Wednesday with the official start at the Launceston country club.
Keep coming back to TMR for daily updates and photos from the event from our man on the ground Joel Strickland.