TARGA OF TWO HALVES
This year’s Targa Rotorua — held in positively balmy ‘endless summer’ conditions over the May 14–15 weekend — proved to be an event of two halves for many in the 59-strong field.
No more so than for overall winners Leigh Hopper and Michael Goudie in Hopper’s borrowed Mitsubishi Evo III, and father and son pair Eddie and Ben Grooten in Grooten Snr’s familiar Porsche 911.
Now back to a traditional two-day format — after the three-day Auckland-whitianga-rotorua one of recent years — the 2016 Rotorua Targa attracted a large and diverse field of over 80 cars, 59 across the three competitive classes and 25 for the Targa Tour.
Slings and Arrows
You’re not supposed to talk about luck in motor sport — conventional wisdom saying that you make your own — but it was hard to ignore the effect of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that were in play in and around Rotorua.
History will record that three-time former event winner Leigh Hopper made it four Rotorua crowns this year, with a fast-finishing Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillett second in Quinn’s four-time Targa Nz–winning Nissan GT-R R35, and moonlighting gravel-rally ace Chris West and co-driver Chris Cobham in Ralliart NZ’S trick little locally-built Mitsubishi Mirage Evolution third.
It will also tell you that 2013 Targa NZ winner Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant from Dunedin claimed a dominant debut Andrewsimms.co.nz Modern 2WD class win (and finished fourth overall) in Dippie’s potent new Porsche GT3 RS. And that Metalman Classic 2WD class stalwarts Andy Mygind and Antony Baker claimed a popular victory in that class in Mygind’s Datsun 240Z.
What a trawl through the results sheets won’t show you, however, is how it could all have turned out so differently …
For instance, number one seeds Jason Gill and Mark Robinson suffered a gearbox problem with their Mitsubishi Evo IX off the start line at the event base at the Rydges Rotorua hotel on Saturday morning, and spent the rest of the day at a local workshop (Driveline Automotive) fixing it.
Gill went on to justify the seeding order by winning five of the six stages on Sunday. But for him — and others like Eddie Grooten — it was a case of what might have been.
“That’s motor racing,” a philosophical Gill said at the prizegiving function after the event. “You have to take the good with the bad. It just means we have to come back next year.” And Grooten? The genial gent behind Dad’s Pies, who this year had son Ben alongside, is always one of the drivers to keep an eye on in the Metalman Classic 2WD class. This time, though, it was because of a spectacular roll and trip (backwards and upside down) down a bank early on the first day.
As it turned out, the damage was more cosmetic than mechanical, and — as it was for Gill and Robinson — Sunday was another day for the Grootens, with Eddie third in class in four of the stages on Sunday, and second in one of the others. “I had to get back on the horse,” he said afterwards, chuckling.
Wringing its neck
Not even Targa event identity, and former Rotorua man, Mike Lowe and co-driver Phillip Sutton was immune to the ‘event of two halves’ blues.
Lowe didn’t mind admitting he was disappointed with his Saturday pace in his newly upgraded (turbo, brakes and rear suspension) ENZED Fiat Abarth Assetto Corse (aka Barty 2) … but Sunday was another day!
“People were telling me on Saturday how to drive the car with the new, bigger, turbo and it just wasn’t working for me,” he explained. “On Sunday I drove it like I drove the old car — wringing its neck — and I think we both felt much better! We still have some issues with tyre wear, but I am much happier after setting some competitive times today.”
Rex Mcdonald and late-call co-driver David Dixon also had cause to reflect on what might have been, after sharing stage wins in the well-supported Metalman Classic 2WD class on Saturday with Mygind and Baker, and Taranaki duo Michael Jury and Steve Hildred in Jury’s Holden VL Commodore.
Despite there being at least three other pairings — including the Peugeot 205 GTI of eventual third place-getters Paul Mcculla and Andrew Mclean, the Toyota MR2 of Rick Finucane and Derek White from Whakatane, and Pat and Toni Dillon from Wanganui in Dillon’s low-line Ford Anglia — buying into the fight for a spot on the class podium, Mcdonald and Dixon were vying for class victory with Mygind and Baker, until a fuel relay came loose, stranding them in the final stage on Saturday.
Five more class stage wins (out of six) on Sunday underlined Mcdonald’s pace, but he couldn’t haul back enough time to get further up the order than second.
Blew a gasket
It wasn’t as if Leigh Hopper and Michael Goudie were immune from Lady Luck’s fickle mood either, despite a winning margin of just over a minute.
“We actually blew the head gasket on the second-to-last stage,” Hopper told the crowd of well-wishers at the finish. “Fortunately we had a service stop between it and the last stage, so we flushed what was left of the coolant in the system, put some Bars Leaks in it, and backed off the boost and the pace to hopefully get us home.”
The car got to the ceremonial Targa arch and was flagged home for a finish, but would not restart, and had to be pushed to its pit bay in the hotel car park.
Had the pair not made it through the final stage, five-time former Targa NZ winner Tony Quinn and four-time cowinning co-driver Naomi Tillett were waiting in the wings. But Quinn said afterwards that it was obviously not to be.
“Look I enjoyed it,” he said of the event, “but maybe I started my run too late? If this was a main Targa, look where I’d be on the third day, though. Leigh would be out, Jason would have too big a deficit to make up, and I’d be in the box seat.
“But I don’t know — I just felt awkward in the car on the first day. The stages were good, but perhaps some of them were not appropriate for a car as big as the GT-R.”
The bar’s been raised
Several new cars made their presence felt at this year’s Rotorua event, including the new Porsche GT3 RS of Martin
Dippie and Jona Grant, and the new BMW M3 of fellow Global Security Modern 2WD stage class winner, Tauranga ace Simon Clark and co-driver Richard Raglan.
Clark Proctor and co-driver Sue O’neill kept the new cars honest in his old-school, turbocharged Nissan V6–powered Ford Escort.
But the event could prove to be a pivotal one for the category. “Happy to finish,” Proctor said, “but at the same time a bit disappointed at our finishing position.
“Not that third is to be scoffed at, but it is really apparent now that the bar has been lifted with these late-model supercars which are now in the same class as us.
“While I have always backed myself that I could keep up with them … we can in the dry, but as soon as the weather is a little bit inclement or the road is greasy or wet, with all the electronic aids they have, we just can’t do it.”
Despite that, one of the most impressive performances in an older car came from Eddie Grooten’s other son, Tom, in the turbocharged Mazda Mx-5–engined Toyota Starlet he debuted in Targa Bambina earlier in the year.
A former winner of the Castrol BMW E30 circuit-class scholarship, Grooten Jnr (with fellow rookie Andy Bowie codriving) was always nibbling away at the top 10 in the Global Security Modern 2WD class, and he ended up a frankly incredible sixth in class and 11th overall, sandwiched in the latter case between the Subaru WRX 4WD of Nic de Waal and Natasha Oakden and the Mitsubishi Evo X 4WD of Brian Green and Fleur Pedersen!
As far as Targa debuts go, rookie Joe Kouwenhoven and car-building co-driver Carl Hannaford were another combination to do well, starting conservatively in Kouwenhoven’s state-of-the-art Nissan GT-R R35, and getting quicker as the weekend went on, to eventually finish a very respectable seventh in class and 13th overall.
Leigh Hopper won his first Targa Rotorua event, with son Gray co-driving, in 2011 and his second — with Simon Kirkpatrick reading the notes — in 2013.
He and Kirkpatrick also won the three-day Targa North Island event which ended in Rotorua in 2014.
Targa New Zealand events are organized with the support of sponsors; andrewsimms.co.nz, Chicane Racewear, Ecolight, Global Security, Kids in Cars, metalman.co.nz, New zealand classic car magazine, Race Brakes, Racetech, Teamtalk, Trackit, and VTNZ.
It is always nice to see articles on the various motor-event shows at this time of year in your pleasing magazine.
However, I was disappointed to see the annual Trentham American Car Day (Moonshine) article so abbreviated this year. If around 700 cars and 6000 people attend, it is a major event, and surely worthy of more than just [the] one car depicted.
I hope you publish more photos of the great cars this event attracts in your next issue, please, as I did not attend.
The writer of the article did an excellent job of depicting the event (as with the Ford Day at Paraparaumu) and many more US cars must be worth publishing.
Donald Davie, Levin Events at this time of the year are many and varied. Unfortunately, we just simply run out of space in the magazine despite our best efforts to provide the finest coverage that each event deserves.
I agree with you, Donald — there are plenty of great cars in this country, including American classics. AFW
Meanwhile, winners first time out in the Global Security 2WD Modern class were Martin Dippie and Jona Grant, in Dippie’s new Porsche GT3 RS. Popular winners of the Metalman Classic 2WD class were Andy Mygind and Anthony Baker in their Datsun 240Z
Also back this year were former Rotorua man Mike Lowe and codriver Phillip Sutton in Lowe’s new Fiat Abarth