New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Ross Mackay (Fast Com­pany) Photos: Fast Com­pany / Proshotz

TWel­comed tim­ing

Tra­di­tion­ally, the two-day Targa Ro­torua event has been held over Queen's Birth­day week­end but the move to bring it for­ward in search of longer day­light hours, warmer weather, and drier roads was wel­comed by vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one.

“The pres­sure was def­i­nitely on but we did it and to­day the car didn't miss a beat,” he said.

After fa­mously get­ting within spit­ting dis­tance of the Hawke's Bay fin­ish line only to blow an en­gine in the 2013 Targa New Zealand event, Gill has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing quick but un­lucky. So, after last year's Targa New Zealand event he com­mis­sioned a ma­jor re­build of his Mit­subishi Evo IX for what was to be his 13th Targa event. It ob­vi­ously paid off, be­cause bar a blown in­ter­cooler hose slow­ing it on Satur­day, the long-serv­ing Mitsi was a pic­ture of re­li­a­bil­ity.

“We've had the odd per­son lament the fact that the rain stayed away this year,” said event di­rec­tor Peter Martin, “but for ev­ery­one else, com­peti­tors, Tour par­tic­i­pants and our vol­un­teers the balmy weather this week­end has been a god­send,” he said.

The first day kicked off with seven spe­cial stages, the first fea­tur­ing fog just like a June event of old — south-west of Ro­torua be­fore head­ing to the South Waikato for the af­ter­noon and a long trans­port stage at the end of the day to base camp at the Ro­torua Novo­tel and the ad­ja­cent Vil­lage Green.

Sun­day's ac­tion re­mained in the eastern Bay of Plenty with four stages be­fore a re­turn to the cer­e­mo­nial fin­ish line at the Novo­tel.

With cur­rent Targa New Zealand cham­pion Glen Inkster on com­men­tary du­ties on Satur­day, and five-time for­mer Targa NZ event win­ner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi arga event reg­u­lars Ja­son Gill and co­driver Mark Robin­son (Mit­subishi Evo IX) were the toast of New Zealand's tar­mac rally fra­ter­nity on Sun­day, March 19, after their break­through win in this year's Targa Ro­torua event.

“We’ve def­i­nitely been sec­ond a few times,” Auck­lan­der Gill said as he was sur­rounded by fel­low com­peti­tors and well-wish­ers at parc ferme on Ro­torua's Vil­lage Green im­me­di­ately after the event.

The pair were sec­ond, too — to fel­low Auck­lan­ders Leigh Hopper and Michael Goudie, after the first day of com­pe­ti­tion on Satur­day. But there were only 36 sec­onds in it, and when Hopper, the de­fend­ing event ti­tle holder and four-time Ro­torua event win­ner, crashed his newly-built Subaru Im­preza WRX just 4.7km into the first spe­cial stage of the day on Sun­day morn­ing, the event was Gill's to win.

Warmer than usual

Til­lett fi­nally de­but­ing Quinn's much an­tic­i­pated Porsche GT3 RS, the talk ahead of this year's event was that the rally-based four-cylin­der Subaru WRXS and Mit­subishi Evos might fi­nally have met their match. Stage times across the two days put paid to that the­ory, how­ever. Even in the warmer-than-usual weather and tin­der-dry roads, six of Satur­day's stages and three of the four on Sun­day were won by four-wheel drives. Gill and Hopper won three apiece on Satur­day, Gill one and Chris West two of the four on Sun­day.

The ex­cep­tions were the first run through the fast, open Rol­lett Road, Spe­cial Stage 5, north-west of Toko­roa on Satur­day. This was won by the tal­ented Mike Lea and co­driver Grant Han­d­ley in Lea's stan­dard-look­ing but wickedly ef­fec­tive TTI se­quen­tial gear­box– equipped, Nis­san SR20en­gined BMW Com­pact.

The other stage won by a two-wheel drive car was the fate­ful first one on Sun­day, Manawahe / Brae­mar Road, in this case won by Quinn and Til­lett in the new Porsche.

That win proved Quinn was get­ting used to his new whip, though Dunedin pair Martin Dip­pie and Jona Grant, in

Dip­pie's vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal GT3 RS, were ul­ti­mately quicker over the two days.

Again, the stop­watch told the story. They ar­rived back at Ro­torua's Novo­tel, after 295.5km of closed spe­cial stages and 428.6km of tour­ing stages in-be­tween, in sec­ond place and win­ners of the new GT2 class, two min­utes be­hind Gill and Robin­son but a minute ahead of Quinn and Til­lett.

“Yep, pleased to be home in one piece,” Dip­pie said at the fin­ish line. “It’s been a fan­tas­tic event with some great stages. Very much fast and fu­ri­ous from be­gin­ning to end.”

Glo­ri­ous cel­e­bra­tion

Though a new class struc­ture promis­ing more and fairer ‘like against like’ com­par­isons was in­tro­duced for this year's Ro­torua event, the top 10 was still a glo­ri­ous cel­e­bra­tion of the va­ri­ety that is the spice of Kiwi car life.

Fourth over­all after a typ­i­cally quick and un­der­stated per­for­mance was Perth-based ex­pat Robert Dar­ring­ton and co-driver David Abetz in Dar­ring­ton's sleek black BMW M3 (E36).

Fifth was se­cured by New Ply­mouth's Ross Gra­ham, this time with Matthew Mer­wood read­ing the road book, in the boom­ing V8-en­gined Holden To­rana A9X replica that Gra­ham also cir­cuit races with in the Cen­tral Mus­cle Cars se­ries. Sixth was where it re­ally got in­ter­est­ing though, the place go­ing to the broth­ers Grooten, Tom and Ben, in the in­de­cently quick Toy­ota Star­let Tom “bought off Trade Me”. In for­mer BMW E30 Schol­ar­ship win­ner Tom's hands the Star­let is a true gi­ant killer and begs the ques­tion, what could the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion sib­lings (sons of Dad's Pies Porsche man Ed­die Grooten) do in a Mit­subishi Evo or Subaru WRX?

First home in the Me­tal­man Clas­sic 2WD class, mean­while, were Mark Kirk-burn­nand and fa­ther Chris

in their E30 model BMW M3. “Barry and the other K-BS couldn’t be here this week­end so we are just happy to be able to fly the flag,” said Chris.

Com­pe­ti­tion in that class came from sev­eral quar­ters, in­clud­ing the al­ways im­pres­sive Rex Mcdon­ald and co-driver David Dixon in Mcdon­ald's BMW 325i from Auck­land, and Nel­son pair Bruce Far­ley and Glenn Warner in Far­ley's sim­i­lar model.

Nei­ther could match the Kirk-burn­nand con­sis­tency though, Mcdon­ald rue­ing los­ing time early on in the event with a trip off the road, and Far­ley one of a num­ber of com­peti­tors forced to bat­tle a nasty stom­ach virus over the week­end.

Fi­nally, in only his sec­ond Targa event, Auck­land driver Joe Kouwen­hoven with car prepa­ra­tion ex­pert Carl Han­naford co-driv­ing did well to fin­ish 10th over­all in his Nis­san GT-R (R35).

“To win my class (GT4) in only my sec­ond Targa … you can prob­a­bly tell by the smile on my face. I'm ab­so­lutely fizzing,” the West Auck­lan­der said.

Best of the lo­cal Bay of Plenty driv­ers was Mau­rice Shap­ley and co-driver Kane Malasch (Holden Monaro) who fin­ished 27th over­all. And for­mer Asia-pa­cific Rally cham­pion, WRC round win­ner, and win­ner of the ParisDakar Rally, Ken­jiro Shi­nozuka was, not sur­pris­ingly per­haps, first of the trio of Ja­panese en­trants home in his 1976 Honda Civic.

Shi­nozuka was in­vited by the Uni­ver­sity in Ja­pan that runs the rally car build-and-run pro­gramme for stu­dents to drive one of three cars en­tered in this year's event and re­warded them with 43rd po­si­tion.

For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.targa.co.nz.

Top: Cel­e­brat­ing their break­through win in this year's Targa Ro­torua tar­mac mo­tor rally event after the first day are Auck­land pair Ja­son Gill and Mark Robin­son (Mit­subishi Lancer Evo IX).

Above: Sec­ond over­all were Dunedin pair Martin Dip­pie and Jona Grant in Dip­pie's Porsche GT3 RS.

Left: Fourth were Perth-based Kiwi ex­pat Robert Dar­ring­ton and co-driver David Abetz in a BMW M3.

Above and Left: For­mer WRC and Dakar Rally ace Ken­jiro Shi­nozuka was first of the vis­it­ing Ja­panese com­peti­tors home in his diminu­tive uni­ver­sity stu­dent built and main­tained Honda Civic.

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