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After three days and 1,200km of intense competition, the storming Mazda3 MPS of Targa pro Rick Bates is officially the fastest showroom spec car in Targa, and team-mate Alister McRae is hot on his heels.
Bates and McRae increased their lead in Targa Tasmania's Showroom 2WD Competition over ARC champion Simon Evans and his Toyota TRD Aurion. Evans is now more than five minutes adrift of Bates and four minutes behind McRae.
Bates added the prized scalp of the leading Showroom 4WD contender Tony Warren's Mitsubishi Evo 9 during today's eight torturous stages which saw a number of more fancied contenders crash out - including a crowd favourite Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
"There were some tricky stages there today," Bates said, "and I think our measured approach paid off. We're ticking off one stage at a time."
Bates said Targa Tasmania is a true motorsport balancing act.
"It's about trying to put in the best times we can while conserving the tyres and the brakes, and just generally making sure the Mazda3 MPS is performing at its peak everyday."
With all other competition in the 2WD Showroom class more than five minutes adrift, Mazda’s star duo of Rick Bates and Alister McRae fought amongst themselves for Day Three honours.
The two talented Mazda3 MPS drivers drew the first two stages before Bates brought his extensive knowledge to bear, winning the long Merseylea stage by three seconds. The fourth stage was drawn, Bates won the fifth and six stages and then McRae fought back, claiming the last two stages by five seconds.
"The fact that these two were separated by just six seconds after more than 362km is testament to the tenacity and strength of the Showroom spec Mazda3 MPS Targa cars and their world class drivers and co-drivers," said Mazda Motorsport Manager Allan Horsley.
As a result Bates climbed to top of the class; currently his Mazda3 MPS is the fastest Showroom spec car at Targa, not only faster than the 2WD Showroom cars but also the 4WD Showroom cars.
McRae's consistency and speed today netted him a prized scalp, too - that of his team-mate's twin brother, Neal Bates, driving a highly-modified Toyota TRD Aurion.
"This is my first time at Targa and I'm really enjoying it," McRae said, but he's under no illusion the toughest day is still to come.
"Tomorrow is the longest day in terms of competitive kilometres. It's 136km, which is almost double what we've been tackling each day so far, so it's really going to put the pressure on.
"I'm going to need to find that fine line between pushing the car and tyres to their limit to get the best possible times and still make sure we've got enough in reserve for Sunday which is another long one at 105km."
The penultimate day of Targa Tasmania starts in Launceston and finishes in the popular tourist spot, Strahan, on Tasmania’s East Coast. Competitors will travel over 480km and 131km are competitive across seven closed-road stages.
Read all the latest news, catch all the action from today on video and hear it first-hand from the drivers at www.mazda.com.au/targa
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