onventional wisdom says that you earn your Targa New Zealand stripes the hard way: you learn by doing, with the odd — often event-ending — mistake part of a process, which, if you dedicate yourself Zen-like to it for long enough, will eventually bestow on you the reward you seek. It’s a good thing, then, that nobody told this to Kaikoura contractor Regan Ross and co-driver Shaun Howie.
While overall event and andrewsimms.co.nz Allcomers 4WD class winners Glenn Inkster and codriver Spencer Winn (Mitsubishi Evo VIII) used years of experience, both good and bad, to claim their third Targa New Zealand title on the trot by a margin of just over five minutes, Ross simply turned up, drove the wheels off his ’82 RS1800 Ford Escort in his tarmac-event debut, won the Metalman Classic 2WD class by over six minutes, and placed fifth overall. Not bad for a first effort, and part of the often indefinable magic that is Targa New Zealand.
Short and early
This year’s event was both shorter and held earlier in the month of October than in previous years, starting at Wairakei, just north of Taupo, on Thursday, October 13 and finishing — with another memorable flourish courtesy of local classic car enthusiasts — at Havelock North on Sunday, October 16. In between were 640.7km of special stages and 962km of touring from Taupo to Otorohanga in the north, Feilding to the south, and Havelock North to the east.
The new earlier date — conveniently freeing up Labour weekend for competitors and volunteers alike — and the more compact event footprint obviously found favour with competitors and spectators. The last-minute withdrawals by Clark Proctor — with diff, then engine, issues on the eve of the event — and Brent Emerson, reduced the competition entry by two, but 64 competition cars still faced the starter at Wairakei, while another 10 entered the two-day Regional Rally from Palmerston North to Havelock North on the Saturday and Sunday.
In terms of nuts and bolts, the 22nd annual Targa New Zealand event (and 50th event organized under the Targa brand, if you include all the other Sprint, Bambina, Rotorua, and North Island ones) was all about Inkster and Winn claiming their third mainevent win in a row, meaning the pair are now just one victory away from matching contemporary event King Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett’s four-fromfour record set in Quinn’s Nissan R35 GT-R.
The Ecolight-sponsored pair did it in style, too, stopping the clocks over five minutes clear of their nearest rivals, 2013 event winners Martin Dippie and Jona Grant from Dunedin, in Dippie’s latest Porsche GT3 RS. Both combinations also claimed class wins — Inkster and Winn in the andrewsimms. co.nz Allcomers 4WD and Dippie and Grant in the Global Security Modern 2WD.
While the event didn’t start particularly well for Inkster (from Patumahoe, near Pukekohe) and Winn (from Howick in Auckland), the pair fought back after problems with their car on the first day to dominate the second and third, for a big enough lead to stroke home on the final day.
Fellow former gravel rally star Chris West and his co-driver Chris Cobham (Mitsubishi Mirage Evo) from Auckland beat them home on the first day and kept the pair honest until late on the third day, when they slid off the road on oil left by another car on the long and uncompromising Gentle Annie East stage on the way from the Central Plateau to Hawke’s Bay, when their event was over.
The wet, slick road also caught out Allcomers 4WD class sponsor Andrew Simms and his codriver Craig Vulawalu (Mitsubishi Evo X), as well as Global Security Modern 2WD top-three prospect Brent Early and co-driver Andrew Oakley in Early’s former event-winning (ex–joe Mcandrew) Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R.
Leigh Hopper and his co-driver Michael Goudie (Subaru WRX STI) were also lucky to get to the finish line to claim third place overall and second in the andrewsimms. co.nz Allcomers 4WD class, after completing the last three stages of the event without a clutch and running off the road at least once because of the fact.
Also suffering mechanical problems late in the event and slipping down the leader board to sixth were Quinn and Tillett. The pair were due to start the event in a new two-wheel-drive Porsche GT3 RS like the Dippie/ Grant one, but Quinn was forced to press his well-used Nissan R35 GT-R 4WD into service when it became obvious that the Porsche, though landed, could not be race-prepared in time. That the car and its driver were still competitive went without saying, and Quinn swapped times with the Subaru of Hopper and Goudie for second overall when the R35 GT-R was first slowed, then eventually stopped by a gearbox issue on the final day.
In stark contrast, completing a near-perfect Targa New Zealand in his new car was 2013 event winner Dippie and co-driver Grant. Setting an imperious pace at the head of the Global Security Modern 2WD class, the dynamic duo from Dunedin topped the class time sheets in 24 of the 25 stages, and thoroughly deserved their elevation — thanks to the issues Hopper and Goudie faced — to runner-up spot overall on the final day.
There was also a fascinating battle of the BMWS in the Global Security Modern 2WD class, in which Steven KirkBurnnand (Barry’s son) and co-driver Mick Hay eventually prevailed in their modified 1994 318ti Compact over Perth-based Kiwi expat Rob Darrington and his co-driver David Abetz, in their 2002 E36 M3. They ended up second and third, respectively, in class (and fourth and seventh overall) after a three-way battle for second place, with the only other driver to take a class stage win other than Dippie being Christchurch rally driver Marcus van Klink and his co-driver Matt Hayward in van Klink’s new tarmac car, a Mazda RX-8.
No account of this year’s event would be complete without mentioning Tom Grooten and mate Andy Bowie, who finished a giant-killing fourth in the Global Security 2WD Modern in Grooten’s indecently quick 1983-model Toyota Starlet KP61. Yes, it is extensively modified (the reason it runs with the moderns rather than the classics), but what second-generation Targa ace Grooten (son of Porsche 911-driving event stalwart Eddie ‘Dad’s Pies’ Grooten) does with it is extraordinary.
Finally, after Auckland Mitsubishi Evo IX driver Jason Gill and co-driver Mark Robinson were forced out with overheating issues on the first day, the concurrent two-day Targa Regional Rally from Palmerston North to Havelock North was won by Cromwell pair Grant Aitken and Caroline Cullimore in Aitken’s Toyota 86. Second were Auckland pair Graeme and Maree Coley in an Audi RS4 and third were Jerry Friar / Nick Chibnall-west in a BMW 330ci.
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.
For more information, go to targa.co.nz.