LACHIE COMPLETES HIS FIRST TARGA TOUR
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!
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.