TARGA TOUR

LACHIE COM­PLETES HIS FIRST TARGA TOUR

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words and photos: Lach­lan Jones

Tues­day Oc­to­ber 24. With a cou­ple of false starts — in­clud­ing three cracks at miss­ing traf­fic (and man­ag­ing to catch most of it) en route to the mo­tor­way from home, a for­got­ten cell phone and a clam­ber through the bath­room win­dow to re­trieve it — we were on our way to our first Targa event, the 2017 Targa Tour. Not the two-day, not the day trip­per, but the full-fat ver­sion.

The car we took for the event was a MKVII Volk­swa­gen Golf R. While pos­si­bly not what most NZ Clas­sic Car read­ers might have cho­sen, for me as a new­bie to mo­tor sport and the Targa Tour, it ticked as many boxes as pos­si­ble within bud­get. With 221kw (296hp) mated to a slick six-speed DSG gear­box and VW’S 4Mo­tion all-wheel drive sys­tem, the Golf en­sured we’d have plenty of power, I’d have the abil­ity to keep my hands on the wheel at all times by uti­liz­ing the steer­ing wheel–mounted pad­dles, and the Haldex four-wheel drive sys­tem meant Big Brother would al­ways be watch­ing should we get into any trouble in the twisty stuff.

So, with a car full of un­nec­es­sary lug­gage and a whole lot of nerves, we were on the road to Hamp­ton Downs for a full day of scru­ti­neer­ing and brief­ings. While the Targa team had pre­pared us ex­tremely well with com­pre­hen­sive emails, which in­cluded our routes, the rules, pro­to­col and safety is­sues, we were re­ally head­ing into this com­pletely blind.

Pulling into Hamp­ton, we could sud­denly see the scale of the event. It was a ver­i­ta­ble lolly scram­ble for the car en­thu­si­ast, with ev­ery­thing from brand-new As­ton Martins and Lam­borgh­i­nis to full-blown race cars that have seen more Tar­gas than you or I have seen hot laps, and a good con­tin­gent of clas­sics across both the Tour and the main event.

As we spent time in in­cor­rect queues and checked into wrong events, we were also learn­ing how things worked. There was a cer­tain flu­id­ity to pro­ceed­ings, and it quickly be­came ev­i­dent that a lot of these peo­ple have seen a lot of Targa ac­tion and know what they’re talk­ing about, so it pays to lis­ten.

With the Hamp­ton-based for­mal­i­ties out of the way, it was time to get on the road. As new­bies to Targa, we were au­to­mat­i­cally put into the Clas­sic Tour cat­e­gory, with a 130kph speed limit.

This first day is re­ally about get­ting a feel for the cars and the event. His­tor­i­cally, brief­ings and scru­ti­neer­ing took place the day be­fore, but to have this and the first cou­ple of shorter stages on one day does make sense. The two short special stages passed with­out in­ci­dent, and be­ing in the clas­sic group gave us a chance to clear out the but­ter­flies and set­tle in for the rest of the event.

We fin­ished the day in the Park Ferme at Claude­lands Arena in Hamil­ton, where we had a chance to catch up with the other driv­ers and have a look at some of the in­cred­i­ble cars, both in the Tour group and in the main rac­ing event.

Re­freshed and ready to go

Wed­nes­day Oc­to­ber 25. This be­ing our first ‘real’ day of ral­ly­ing, we were up early. Hav­ing spent the evening with some friends in Hamil­ton, we were well re­freshed and ready to go. Fol­low­ing a brief­ing at Claude­lands, we went straight to Mata­mata

to re­group, and get ready to take on the roads in and around Hob­biton. As luck would have it, the routes were the same roads I of­ten take when re­turn­ing from trips to visit fam­ily in Taupo, so I was ex­cited to give them a crack with­out the pesky 100kph limit, and with the use of both sides of the road. And as lady luck giveth, she also taketh away. It turned out that my co-driver is sus­cep­ti­ble to mo­tion sick­ness. Quite bad mo­tion sick­ness. While he’d made his way through the short stages on Tues­day in the clas­sic group, we had now grad­u­ated to the open tour group, with a limit of 160km. His guts and head didn’t much like that, and de­spite troop­ing on for as long as pos­si­ble, keep­ing the pa­per bags from which our lunch was served at Wharepapa South School proved wise and re­source­ful. We re­tired mid stage, and headed gen­tly back to the school.

So I was a co-driver short, but had a taste of what the Targa Tour was all about, and I wasn’t about to let this op­por­tu­nity pass me by. My guilt-rid­den co-driver was think­ing of op­tions while his head was still in a bag. He men­tioned a mate of ours who lives in Hamil­ton, and com­petes in mo­tor sport. It was a Wed­nes­day, he has a job and three young kids. He’s no chance, I thought. Once again, lady luck (and a lovely lady named Jane) came to the fore, and we had our­selves a new co-driver. So over a quiet beer or two, we had a cer­e­mo­nial chang­ing of the guard and ran through the ins and outs of Targa with our newly minted co-driver.

Into the groove

Thurs­day Oc­to­ber 26. Day Three saw us once again take off from Claude­lands, this time with New Ply­mouth in our sights via a good chunk of King Coun­try. Fol­low­ing a cou­ple of shorter stages along some mag­nif­i­cent coun­try roads around Waitomo and Honikiwi, we headed out to­wards the Kawhia Har­bour coast road to tackle the most chal­leng­ing stage yet. With its fast turns and some long straights, driv­ers were get­ting into the groove and, along with a bit of pride and help from the tour lead­ers and of­fi­cials, were get­ting into groups of cars they were com­fort­able with. We were set­tling into a group with sev­eral other cars, in­clud­ing two Porsche GT4S, an Audi RS4, and a Re­nault Me­gane RS265 driven by a hand­some cou­ple from Auck­land.

Fol­low­ing a long tour­ing stage, a lot of which was across gravel — which put some of the lower cars to the test — we set off on an­other chal­leng­ing stage, this time a long, quick blast through some skinny coun­try lanes to Awakino. While the sweep cars did a great job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing back to the tour’s lead car about what was hap­pen­ing out on the road, there was an oc­ca­sional patch of gravel or moss which went un­ac­counted for. Un­for­tu­nately, this stage saw one of the Porsche GT4S find some of this moss and end up in a fence just off the road. No great prob­lem un­til a fol­low­ing WRX found some

trouble on the same corner. The re­sult wasn’t the best for ei­ther car, but luck­ily there were no in­juries, and Targa rules mean all cars are fully in­sured, so, as some of the old hands told me, “That’s mo­tor sport”.

On our Tour back to New Ply­mouth, we were in­ad­ver­tently in­volved in a po­lice chase when a small Toy­ota Vitz passed us at (rel­a­tive) speed through one-way road­works, fol­lowed by sev­eral po­lice cars. Some 20km down the road, we came across the idiot and his Vitz safely off the road hav­ing suc­cumbed to po­lice-de­ployed road spikes. This en­counter was a timely re­minder of the dangers of speed­ing on pub­lic roads, and why the Targa and Targa Tour of­fer such a great op­por­tu­nity to make the most of some of best pieces of tar­mac with­out putting other pub­lic road users at risk. Repub­lic of Whang­amomona Fri­day Oc­to­ber 27. To sug­gest that the Repub­lic of Whang­amomona is off the beaten track is an un­der­state­ment. This des­ti­na­tion town shuts the pub for the du­ra­tion of win­ter due to lim­ited pa­tron­age. But the day the Targa cir­cus comes to town, Whang­amomona comes alive. The Whang­amomona stage is al­most as fa­mous as Targa it­self, so get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to drive the sad­dle road into town and spend some time on the ground was some­thing I’d been look­ing for­ward to for a while. We chose to sit out the stage be­yond the town and ro­tate the tyres, as they were tak­ing a pun­ish­ing and be­gin­ning to get very ‘chatty’ at about 20km into each stage. Hav­ing been fol­lowed into the moun­tains by a GT4 with a dash cam set up, we were alerted to a puff of grey smoke we had let out mid-stage. We hadn’t felt any ad­verse ef­fects in the cabin, and a friendly mem­ber of the Dad’s Pies pit crew re­as­sured us it would’ve been a build-up of pres­sure be­ing re­leased by the Turbo. Whew!

Hav­ing spent a pleas­ant few hours in Whang­amomona, in­clud­ing some ex­cel­lent hos­pi­tal­ity by way of home-made sam­mies and end­less bak­ing, we headed back across the sad­dle on the re­turn trip. While the rest of the day’s driv­ing was more of the su­perb same we’d come to ex­pect, we couldn’t shake Whang­amomona from our minds, and had plenty of time to re­hash and dis­cuss its bril­liance over a 150km tour to Palmer­ston North for the evening.

An ab­so­lute ball

Satur­day Oc­to­ber 28. We headed for the Square in Palmer­ston North to set off on, quite un­be­liev­ably, the fi­nal day of Targa NZ for 2017. The week had flown by, and we were all be­gin­ning to rue the end. Today’s driv­ing in­tro­duced some new roads to Targa, in­clud­ing a ring route around Car­swell and Lang­dale. These early stages of the fi­nal day were un­like any we’d ex­pe­ri­enced un­til that point, with av­er­age speeds of 135kph be­ing logged by one Tour par­tic­i­pant. The

straight roads meant that we could stretch the legs of the cars. It also meant a small amount of com­pla­cency crept in. We had our clos­est shave when, on a long straight piece of road, we put both right-hand wheels into the grass. Thanks more to the VW’S all-wheel-drive sys­tem than driv­ing prow­ess on my part, we were soon straight­ened up and back on track. This lit­tle wake-up call was prob­a­bly just what the doc­tor or­dered as we passed through stun­ning Mart­in­bor­ough head­ing for the fi­nal stages, which in­cluded some ex­tremely tricky cor­ner­ing. First up, it was the in­fa­mous Moon­shine. Sev­eral of the tour lead­ers claimed cor­ners on Moon­shine as ones they’d been off at on pre­vi­ous events. With this in mind, we headed up the hill with some cau­tion. Ahead of us we could see gag­gle of As­ton Martins nav­i­gat­ing their way up the road, which may well have been fash­ioned on a goat track.

The next stage, Paekakariki Hill, looked as if it only had one warn­ing. I breathed a sigh of re­lief. Un­til I read the warn­ing prop­erly. It was for the en­tire stage, in bold, up­per-case let­ter­ing. “!!!CAU­TION!!! ENOR­MOUS DROPS FOR THE FIRST 3.2KM”. I’m OK with heights, but I was told by my co-driver at the end of the stage that if we’d man­aged to find the cliff, we may well still have been fly­ing through the air to­wards the ocean sev­eral hours later, such was the height of the drop-off. A few of the driv­ers were Welling­ton lo­cals ex­cited at the prospect of driv­ing this road, which has been an un­of­fi­cial prov­ing ground for petrol­heads for years. There was a tyre blowout for a 911 (thank­fully once the drop-off was out of sight), but oth­er­wise all the tour cars and driv­ers came away un­scathed.

Fol­low­ing the very last stage in Makara — which saw plenty of bumps in the road, and pos­si­bly a few driv­ers more cau­tious than nor­mal — we were done. The Targa Tour was all over for 2017. As the pro­ces­sion of cars headed to Welling­ton, it be­gan to set in what we had achieved. We’d driven across some of the most beau­ti­ful parts of our lit­tle coun­try in cool cars with like-minded peo­ple. What an ab­so­lute ball!

Special thanks

So, here I sit. Back at my desk, hav­ing just spent five days driv­ing well over 2000km, and con­sum­ing more than the Heart Foun­da­tion–rec­om­mended num­ber of pies for break­fast. Truth be told, I’m bug­gered. Sure, we cel­e­brated the end of the event with other par­tic­i­pants at length on Satur­day night, but I also be­lieve mo­tor sport re­ally does take it out of you. Sit­ting on your chuff for eight to ten hours a day sounds easy, but throw in a few hours of full con­cen­tra­tion driv­ing at pace, and your adren­a­line lev­els are up and down like mad. De­spite this, I would gladly go and jump in the lit­tle Golf and head straight back to do it all again right now.

I’d like to say a special thanks to both my co-driv­ers, Ste­fan (MKI) and James (MKII). A bit dif­fer­ent to the road trips in the old Tel­star, boys. What a few days! And to their sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, Sarah and Jane, thank you for lend­ing me your fel­las for the week. To Peter, Vic­to­ria, and the rest of the team at Targa, great work. The event ran seam­lessly, and every­one I spoke to had a blast. To the Tour lead­ers, thank you. You kept us in­formed while not smoth­er­ing us. We were all out there for the same rea­son, to have a good time in our cars. We cer­tainly achieved that, and a whole lot more. I’ll be back out there again next year, and I reckon you should have a think about it, too. The Targa Tour re­ally is a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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