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TARGA TOUR: THE ULTIMATE GT EXPERIENCE



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If we could climb into Dr Who’s TARDIS and travel back in time to 1995 and the inaugural Targa New Zealand, we’d immediately see that there was no such thing as the Targa Tour back then. Instead, there was a pure trials event, Targa Tempo, running alongside the main Targa competition.

Only two entrants ran in that year’s Targa Tempo category — Petra Bates in her ’71 Chevrolet Corvette roadster with her friend Phylis Bates as navigator and timekeeper, and two brothers, Keith and Grant Loch, entered in their Australian E-Type replica — the aptly named ‘Holden Cheetah’

The formula for Targa Tempo was simple. Entrants were expected to keep within posted speed limits through all the special stages, rather than going hell for leather. Devised for those not wishing to tear apart their classic cars to fit roll cages or other competition modifications, Targa Tempo was all about fast touring and equally fast fun. Incidentally, Petra won that initial Targa Tempo event and, of course, used it as a stepping stone to the main Targa, in which she competed in the car that became her trademark mount — a bright yellow Ford Thunderbird. The Lochs also stepped up to the main competition, and onlookers soon became familiar with their brightly coloured Cheetah roadster.

The Targa Tempo category was run again in 1996, and, once again, the only entries were Petra Bates and the Lochs — this time, Grant and Keith took overall honours. However, as the category didn’t seem to be attracting fresh entrants, Targa Tempo was discontinued for 1997.

But, as the popularity of Targa blossomed, interest in the event began to increase and, during the planning stages for the 1998 Targa New Zealand, it became obvious to organizers that a growing number of motoring enthusiasts wanted to participate in the event without having to seriously modify their cars to comply with the ever-more-stringent motor sport safety regulations.

PATSY POIRIER’S NISSAN GT-R

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Patsy and her partner Ron Stroeven bought this GT-R on an impulse — originally, they’d been all set to sign up for a brand-new Nissan 370Z back in 2009, having previously owned a 350Z. For some reason, the salesperson they were dealing with unexpectedly offered them the opportunity to take a long test drive in a new GT-R — even allowing them to keep the car overnight if they wanted. As Patsy put it, “Well, who would say no to that?”

Though its reputation preceded it, during their stint in the GT-R, both Patsy and Ron were stunned by the acceleration and handling of this relatively big four-seater sports car. Still, they already had a Porsche 997 Turbo, so it seemed hard to justify another high-performance vehicle.

However, they decided that, as track days at Hampton Downs were up and running regularly by this time, if they added the GT-R to their stable, they could have a ‘track’ car each — no competition, of course! So they gravitated towards the GTR, helped by the ease of swapping cogs via the Nissan’s twin-clutch gearbox.

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Patsy and Ron had already begun driving in the Targa Tour, starting in 2008. Initially, Patsy acted as Ron’s co-driver in their Porsche, but, following formal driver training and regular track-day outings, her confidence grew, and the couple began alternating the driver/co-driver roles for subsequent Targa Tours.

However, blokes being blokes, Ron really wanted to do all the driving on the Targa Tour, rather than share that role with Patsy. Thus, the idea that they’d both find their own co-drivers and enter their own cars was a logical progression from this.

This year’s Targa Tour will be Patsy’s 10th at the wheel of her GT-R, and she reckons it is the perfect car for the event — “There’s plenty of room for luggage, the car’s immensely capable and safe (four-wheel drive helps in those respects), and it’s fast yet civilized enough for the open-road touring sections.”

Having participated in and enjoyed every Targa Tour since 2008, Patsy says the real lure is the change that the event offers for entrants to drive through parts of the country you would never otherwise go to — such as the Republic of Whangamomona — while being able to travel at high speeds on closed tarmac roads. Then, of course, there’s the famed Targa camaraderie and many evenings socializing with like-minded enthusiasts, not to mention the fact that, with the cars ranging from classics to supercars and everything in between all arranged in groups according to calculated car performance and individual driver experience — everyone can drive at their own pace.

Patsy says the real lure is the change that the event offers for entrants to drive through parts of the country you would never otherwise go to — such as the Republic of Whangamomona — while being able to travel at high speeds on closed tarmac roads

This demand was answered with the Britz New Zealand Targa Supporter’s Tour. In 1998, the inaugural tour attracted 11 entrants — instantly proving itself to be more successful than the previous Targa Tempo category. (Continued on page 28.)

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The conversation is cars and roads, and ‘Did you see …?’, ‘And what about …?’ And, of course, [about how] we can all do it again tomorrow

MIKE DILLON’S BMW M3

According to Mike, the Targa Tour is a great way to get to put your car through its paces, as you get to do the same course that the Targa racers do and use the same pace book they use.

Mike points out, “In everyday driving, it’s not possible to see the full potential of your car. The M3 is made for the Targa Tour, with its uphill tight twistiness, and those fast sweeping corners on roads that are closed off and that you wouldn’t even know exist without the tour.”

Mike also likes that the experience and sport can be shared with a friend, your co-driver: “You both get to do large sighs and laugh out loud. Talk about the highlights and share the thrills with a mate, or a mate-ess. The friends you make along the way are ones you will always have and never forget, and, each night of each day, the tour gets to book out a restaurant in a different town.

“Imagine as many as 80 guys and girls from 40 cars all in the same room, all pumped up after a day of exhilarating Targa Tour fun. The conversation is cars and roads, and ‘Did you see …?’, ‘And what about …?’ And, of course, [about how] we can all do it again tomorrow, because we have five days of this ahead of us!”

For Mike, the Targa Tour is a highlight of the year, and, because he’s not racing against the clock and experiencing the wear and tear and breakages you’d expect from full competition, the tour is an annual sport that he can afford and enjoy.

“Anyway,” he says, “just because you’re not racing against the clock doesn’t mean by any means that Targa Tour is a casual drive — you can pick where you want to sit in the line-up, and, if you choose to position your car against one that is your equal, it can be fast and exciting as you strive to hold on to that position.”

Mike’s weapon of choice — an E36 3.0-litre Euro-spec M3 — is certainly up to the task of keeping up with the faster tour cars. With its distinctive carbon-fibre bonnet, Mike’s M3 also features a fibreglass boot and rear wing, Bilstein shocks, fully adjustable sway bars, custom road springs, lots of extra chassis-reinforcement plates, upgraded brakes, and a Z3 steering rack. Mike reckons the M3’s straight-six engine — complete with six individual throttle bodies — pumps out 185kW at the rear wheels, that power running through a carbon-Kevlar clutch out to a limitedslip differential.

As it is for many regular Targa Tour entrants, Mike believes that the event is whatever you want to make of it, and that it’s your choice on the day.

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BARRY WHITE’S MERCEDES-BENZ C63 COUPE 507 EDITION

Barry’s car is one of the last of the legendary handbuilt, naturally aspirated, 6.2-litre V8 Mercedes, so AMG did something special and replaced the normal detuned C63 engine with the Black Series unit that makes some serious numbers. With extra power on tap, AMG also upgraded the stoppers with Black Series 405mm disc brakes, while a Black Series cooling system keeps everything nice and cool. The car is also fitted with a factory limited-slip differential option, a seven-speed gearbox, and a panoramic roof.

Although Barry’s car is a limited-edition model, from the outset, he decided he’d drive it like it was built to be driven rather than treat it as a garage queen. As such, the Mercedes has now travelled 16,000 kilometres, some of which can be attributed to three Targa Tour events as well as several track-day sessions. Power is now around 362KW at the wheels, with the kind of instant response only a naturally aspirated engine can provide. As Barry puts it, this rear-wheel–drive coupé can be driven “like a kitten in ‘C’ mode or it can become a complete animal in ‘S+’ or manual mode with the traction control turned off!”

For events such as the Targa Tour, Barry runs 18-inch wheels shod with Nitto NT01 tyres, while, for normal street use, he reverts to the factory 19-inch rims and more road-oriented rubber — with far less traction but much more daily-driver friendliness.

“I’ve been in every Targa Tour since the Kim Dotcom event and love it,” Barry says. “It’s a unique opportunity to drive our cars without having to race-prepare them or fit a roll cage. We get to drive them fast but in a controlled and safe way, and experience the thrill of closed roads and being able to take up both lanes without being in a full-on competition environment. The camaraderie is fantastic, and I have made many new friends on Targa. Other than a codriver, we do not need a crew, nor do we have the pressure of racing that can lead to overcooking it into a corner, because a Targa Tour leader sets the pace. Lastly, at the end of the day, instead of [doing] car maintenance, we get to relax at the bar and share the day with our fellow Targa Tour participants and the main Targa competitors. It’s a wonderful experience, and affordable without the logistics and cost of taking part in the full competition event.”

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This rear-wheel–drive coupé can be driven “like a kitten in ‘C’ mode or it can become a complete animal in ‘S+’ or manual mode with the traction control turned off!”

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They get to enjoy their cars on wonderful roads, just the way the manufacturers they intended the cars to be used

By the following year, the Targa Tour had become so popular that the organizers elected to introduce a tour leader — a position that would be filled by a number of incumbents over the following years, including Don Fenwick; Greg Paul; and the NZ Classic Car deputy editor of the time, Tim Nevinson.

From those small beginnings, the Targa Tour grew quickly. In its biggest years, it drew together many dozens of enthusiasts, and while the tour has always attracted genuine classic cars, today it has become something of a Mecca for owners of modern-day performance machinery from iconic marques such as Bentley, Ferrari, Aston Martin, McLaren, Maserati, BMW, Porsche, and Lamborghini.

A unique opportunity

The tour is unique to Targa New Zealand; no other event can offer the opportunity it provides, and demand is growing internationally. The exciting elements offered by the tour mean that it is, ultimately, the jewel in the crown of Targa New Zealand. The Targa Tour offers participants from all walks of life the opportunity to drive on both sides of closed stretches of tarmac in a controlled manner. They get to enjoy their cars on wonderful roads, just the way the manufacturers intended the cars to be used, and the whole event has been devised for those with special-interest vehicles who want to experience the full potential of their cars by motoring on spectacular winding roads in an exciting non-competitive atmosphere.

With the ability to complete the entire rally route, Targa Tour participants receive the same route books and instructions as competitors in the main Targa New Zealand, allowing them to feel part of the Targa family, thus creating the basis for many wonderful and unforgettable experiences.

Of course, the tour continues to provide entrants with a real idea of what Targa New Zealand is all about, and, while some are happy to keep coming back to the tour year after year, many others choose to make the transition from tourist to full-on competitor.

So, whether your baby is a racing red modern-day Ferrari or a mollycoddled classic, the Targa Tour offers an great opportunity to enjoy your chosen car over some spectacular country roads without having to contend with normal traffic and, of course, posted speed limits — Targa Tour entrants can go as quickly or as slowly as they want; it’s their choice.

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TARGA VETERAN PART TWO

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