Packed tighter than a Southland Stags’ scrum, the flock of local cockies cheered and held their cans of Speights and William Cody beer high as a 200-strong cavalcade of race-prepared luxury, sports, and classic cars scrabbled to scrub off speed for the one-lane bridge opposite their bush-lined Catlins paddock, then accelerated hard off it towards Florence Hill and the picture-perfect sweep of the achingly beautiful Tautuku Bay. On any other day the grandly-named Southern Scenic Route would see more Britz campervans than BMW M3s. However, for competitors in the 20th-anniversary Targa South Island, it was a flat-out 42.66km sprint from the top of a windswept hill just south of Owaka to just shy of the intersection with the main Niagara-Tokonui Highway. The storied Southern Scenic Route was not the only main thoroughfare closed for the first time for the Targa South Island event, either.
Working on the assumption that ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get,’ Peter Martin and his team successfully sought the closure of such iconic Mainland jewels as Christchurch’s Summit Road, Mt Cargill Road (the old main road out of town) and Highcliff (along the ridge of the Otago Peninsula from Shiel Hill to Portobello) in Dunedin, and both the Crown Range and Queenstown-Glenorchy Roads. There were several very welcome surprises too. George King Memorial Drive, south-west of Dunedin, was one. From a relatively innocent start up a side road on the Mosgiel side of Outram, it snaked up a valley and onto the high, rounded rump of the Lee Stream uplands, where it tested driver and co-driver alike with its ribbon-like flow of fast, open corners and sphincter-tightening blind crests. You didn’t just get the one go at it either. After the first, breathless run through it, crews returned briefly to Dunedin for the — by contrast — tight and twisty Larnach stage on the Peninsula, before heading back to Outram to do Memorial Drive again, then heading to Milton for the lunchtime service. The truly epic Moa Flat stage in West Otago was another stunner, though this time round — as happened on other days too — time delays (for various reasons) meant it was only run the once, from Ettrick (north) to Heriot (south), the field having to tour (rather than race) back through it from south to north on the way to that night’s parc fermé in Cromwell.
Add locals dressing in period costume and riding penny-farthings at the lunchtime service stop in the heart of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct, two nights parc fermé undercover in Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr stadium, a wee dram of Hokonui Moonshine for everyone, and lunchtime entertainment courtesy of a local country and western outfit in Gore, and you had the makings of an event which will be talked about for years — decades, even.
The short answer to that question is Patumahoe ace Glenn Inkster and his Howick-based boss, Spencer Winn, in the Ecolight-backed Mitsubishi Evo VIII Inkster and his team have been developing for the past two years. Six days and a total of over 2500km after being flagged away from the ceremonial start at Christchurch’s Addington Raceway and Conference Centre at 1.30pm on Labour Day Monday, Inkster and Winn arrived at the finish line in downtown Queenstown with a lead of eight minutes and 10 seconds over fellow Mitsubishi Evo pair Todd and Rhys Bawden.
Five-time former winner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett won three stages in Quinn’s new Lamborghini, but only contested three of the event’s six days thanks to a high-speed crash on the second leg. Having won the 20th anniversary Targa Tasmania event in Australia, five-time New Zealand event winner Tony Quinn had his heart set on getting the double here this year behind the wheel of his new Lamborghini Huracán. But a car-bending crash at the end of the Gum Tree Flat stage near Oamaru meant that it was not to be. Though disappointed, the Gold Coast–based Scot was philosophical — “It’s what Targa is, full of stories, dilemmas and stuff that happens. The Lamborghini is a very low car so you can’t see over the brows. Whether it’s the right car for the Targa I’m not sure. I may be better with another car, and keep this one for the track, we have that option.” Quinn’s was by no means the only big crash, either. Nelson Escort buff Peter Jones’ crew burned the midnight oil to repair his previously immaculate MkI after Jones lost control on the same combination of hollow and yump that caught Quinn out. Rotorua event winner Leigh Hopper and co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick lasted little longer, being early casualties of a tricky left-hander which saw Hopper’s highly-developed Subaru Impreza WRX do an aerial worthy of Red Bulls X-Fighter star Levi Sherwood, before crunching all four body (and suspension) corners when it finally fell back to earth. Another highly-rated event stalwart, Clark ‘Metalman’ Proctor and co-driver, Sue O’Neill, were also sidelined before they really got going, Clark rolling his turbocharged Nissan V6-engined Escort on Wednesday’s Mt Cargill stage out of Dunedin, before grinding to a halt later that day after snapping a (newly-fitted) gearbox input shaft. Wellington driver Greg Fowles was hospitalized, meanwhile, after having to be cut out of the Honda Civic co-driven by son Jackson when he misjudged a corner later on the same day.
Fast forward to the final day, and Carl Kirk-Burnnand crashed out of what looked as if it was going to be a class podium on the penultimate stage, while both the Rob Ryan/Paul Burborough Toyota Corolla AE86 Levin and Gary Morgan/Natasha Oakden Subaru Legacy RSR were badly damaged when the Legacy left the road at speed and hit the Toyota, which had also left the road a few minutes earlier. Mechanical issues meanwhile claimed others, amongst them a gearbox failure which finally put the hard-driving Marcus van Klink and co-driver Dave Neill out of the event after the pair had been nipping away at the heels of the larger, more powerful cars (like Darrington’s Beemer) at the front of the Instra.com Modern 2WD field for the first three days. Though Marcus realized fairly early on that the ex-World Rally Championship Citroën S1600 C2 was “not the ideal Targa car” the Christchurch driver — a two-time Targa veteran — persevered, the high-revving little French hatchback coming into its own on tighter stages. Also forced out by mechanicals was Foxton Holden man Bevan Claridge and new co-driver Campbell Tannock. The problem? “A broken crankshaft, mate!” As always there were just as many stories of efforts above and beyond the call of duty to keep cars going, or get them to the end. Not surprisingly, 20-event veteran Mike Lowe and co-driver Phillip Sutton had one of them. Before the event Lowe put up a scale-model replica trophy on his distinctive Enzed-backed Fiat Abarth Berlina, as well as $1000 of his own money, to anyone with a sub-1000cc car who could beat them. Sensing an easy way to relieve an Aussie of a grand, Christchurch pair Clyde Walker and Steve Hayward — last seen in the event, by the way, in a Zephyr MkIII way back in 2003 — took up the challenge in their Ford Anglia, and it was all on. Further up the field, with Quinn and Tillett out before the event had really started, Inkster and Winn played fast but not loose, setting a pace that soon gave them the buffer they needed.
Early on Jason Gill and Mark Robinson, and Leigh Hoper and Simon Kirkpatrick, tucked in behind, but when Gill and Robinson lost time with a broken oil pressure sensor, and Hopper and Kirkpatrick crashed out, the Bawden brothers — Todd and Rhys — took up the baton in their Mitsubishi Evo X. They, in turn, had former South African rally ace Nic De Waal, and the co-driver who used to read his notes in the Republic, Guy Hodgson, snapping at their heels with Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit in the Dodson Nissan GT-R35, and Auckland-based Mitsubishi dealer Andrew Simms and high-profile co-driver Chris West fleshing out the top five.
Early on in the week expat Gavin Riches and American wife Amy set the agenda (and pace) in Instra.2WD modern, leaving last year’s class and overall winners Martin Dippie and Jona Grant, and giant-killing Christchurch pair Deane Buist and Andrew Bulman in their modernized Escort MkII, in their wake. Dippie made it clear his was a long game though, and sure enough, when the Riches lost time with an engine-bay fire caused by a holed exhaust (and flaming drive belt) in the Catlins stage, the class and top two-wheel drive advantage went to Dippie and Grant, with Buist and Bulman second, and Terry May and Peter Burridge working their way forward over the week to claim the final step on the class podium in their Porsche GT3. Metalman Classic 2WD proved the most entertaining class over the six days, with Greg Goudie and son Michael in front in last month’s Escort RS1600 cover car from fellow Ford aficionados, Neil Tolich and Cully Paterson, in Tolich’s V8-powered Ford Capri Perana, and former motorcycle ace Jason Easton and Campbell Ward in Easton’s only-just-completed ’65 Ford Mustang. Easton, who earned his four-wheel stripes co-driving for the past two years for Foxton mate, Bevan Claridge, was in many ways the revelation of the class, the Mustang not the obvious choice as a Targa car, but a quick and reliable one all the same. The Ford trio were not the only ones to step up to take the Metalman Classic battle to the previously all-conquering Kirk-Burnnand /BMW clan either. Former champion rally co-driver Rob Ryan was another to prove just as talented in the other seat, making his AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin do things it had no right to, and ending up second overall to eventual winners Mark and Chris Kirk-Burnnand despite crashing out on the last (and eventually cancelled) stage. Then there was Bruce Farley and Tim Eddington in Farley’s BMW 325i. Nelson businessman and classic rally buff Farley (if the name rings a bell it is because of the Rover P6 he rallies) and Eddington started well, and got better and better as the week went on.
Depth of Field
After making back the time they lost on the first stage with a broken fan belt, Mark and his dad, Chris Kirk-Burnnand, were quickly back up front. But at one stage there were at least 10 — count them — combinations vying for a spot in the top three, making the Metalman Classic the most competitive class by far. One of them, of course, was defending class titleholder Barry Kirk-Burnnand, who with Mike Lowe is the only other driver to enter and now complete all 20 Targa NZ main events. He and long-time co-driver Dave O’Carroll definitely felt the extra heat this year, but ended up happy with fourth place in class. And then it was over. Downtown Queenstown was packed as first the 80-strong Targa Tour field, then the promo cars and finally the 96 remaining competition-class cars filtered back into town after the return run from Glenorchy. After 768.6 kilometres of closed special stages and 1888 kilometres of touring stages, the 20th anniversary Targa South Island event was consigned to the history books, with only a night on the town and breakfast prize-giving function at the Skyline restaurant high above Queenstown to go. Next year the six-day main event returns north — though the success of the organization’s first foray into the South Island this year means a return in the future is a distinct possibility. We’ll leave the final words to Targa supremo, Peter Martin. “The feedback from competitors to councils would certainly encourage us to head back down south at some stage in the future, though obviously with the timing and number of days open for discussion.”
Final Results: Targa South Island 2014