TARGA OF TWO HALVES

New Zealand Classic Car - - Targa Rotorua 2016 -

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

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