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Targa Tasmania 2009 will see the return to competition of Mazda's famed SP moniker.
A production Mazda RX-8 GT - the only rotary-powered performance car in Australia - has been turbocharged, given a roll cage and readied for the toughest test in Australian endurance racing.
The Mazda RX-8 SP will enter the hotly-contested Modern Competition, piloted by a man used to racing at the highest level: 2008 Targa champion Steve Glenney.
South Australian horse trainer Glenney and his co-driver Bernie Webb are accustomed to setting the pace on Tasmania's challenging roads, winning the 2008 event outright.
They jumped at the chance to give the Mazda RX-8 SP its motorsport debut. Glenney says nothing short of a podium finish will do.
"I'm excited to be chosen by Mazda Motorsport to play a role in the development of the Mazda RX-8, and to be driving it in its Australian rally debut," he said.
"The RX-8's a great-looking car, the rotary engine is synonymous with Mazda's Motorsport history in Australia, and I'm confident of getting a top result for Mazda."
Glenney is looking forward to his fifth Targa experience and says the RX-8's inherent attributes will give his rotary-spun rally car a competitive edge in the five-day event.
"The RX-8's perfect 50/50 weight balance will give it a huge dynamic advantage on Tasmania's twisting roads. That, combined with its torquey turbocharged engine, will make the RX-8 SP a standout at this year's Targa."
Mazda Motorsport manager Allan Horsley is the mastermind behind Mazda's most potent attack on Targa.
"It's great to be able to put together our biggest Targa team in ten years, especially in these challenging times. Competitive motorsport is an integral part of Mazda's Zoom-Zoom spirit."
Horsley says a lot of preparation has gone into making the Mazda RX-8 SP as competitive as possible, but is cautious about its prospects.
"Targa Tasmania is not a race to be taken lightly. It's a flat-out sprint over 2,000km in five tough days, and that's a real test of man and machine. The RX-8 SP has plenty of potential, but it is an unknown package in a rally environment. So it's difficult to know how it will perform at its first competitive outing."
The Mazda RX-8 SP follows in the tyre tracks of Mazda's four back-to-back 12-hour Endurance race wins between 1992-1995 with the Mazda RX-7 SP. Mazda's last competitive outing with the RX-7 SP was at the 2002 Targa Tasmania with Rick Bates at the wheel.
The 2009 Targa Tasmania runs from April 28 to May 3 and comprises around 1890km, including 465km across 40 competitive closed-road stages.
The Mazda RX-8 will be competing in the Modern Competition. The Mazda3 MPS will be competing for honours in the Showroom 2WD Competition. All Modern and Showroom competitors are competing for outright honours.
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