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My First Targa Tasmania

Road trip over, time to get serious

I picked up my navigator (nav) Dennis from Launceston airport after he’d flown down from QLD where he is based. Dennis, a very experienced nav with many tarmac rallies under his belt (including 8 previous visits to Targa Tasmania) had put together an ambitious reconnaissance (recce) plan – over 2,000km of driving in 3 very full days. At the last minute, we decided to take my Porsche Macan Turbo rather than the Corolla hire car I had booked. It was a great choice – the Macan was the perfect recce vehicle; much closer in pace to my Lotus and a very comfortable place to cover bulk km.

Our mission was simple, I needed to learn pace notes and the only way was to get out and get busy on the competition stages. The roads in Tassie are amazing and we had so much fun doing recce that I couldn’t wait to cut loose on closed roads once Targa Tasmania would finally get underway.

The trusty recce car after we had completed the last stage Longley

The competition

I decided to enter the GT Sports Trophy Competition which differs from the Open Competition, in that, it is speed limited to a maximum of 130km/h. I figured for my first serious tarmac rally that I wanted to limit the risk as much as possible and keeping the speed down would help achieve that. The downside of the speed limited category is that, the only opportunity to make time is by going faster through the corners as everyone can go the maximum speed down the straights.

This particular competition is only in its 3rd year of running at Targa Tasmania and the same team had won it for the first two years – Jeff & Nerida Beable in their R34 GTR N1 Skyline. Jeff & Nerida have extensive Targa Tasmania experience – this was their 24th entry in the 26 years the event has been running and were clearly the team to beat.

Leg 1 – wet and slippery start to competition

I was told you can’t really trust the weather forecast in Tassie, but the forecast for Leg 1 (day 1) was accurate and it wasn’t good news. Wet and very slippery roads which wasn’t what I wanted to wake up to for my very first day of competition. I had agreed with my nav, Dennis and Lee, from SSC Lotus (the workshop that prepared the vehicle and also provided service crew) that I wouldn’t check the stage times until the end of the day. It made sense, knowing the times could only add pressure and I really didn’t need that on my first day of competition!

At lunch on the first day, the line was very long so I decided to skip lunch, ate some nuts I had in the car and found somewhere to fill up my water bottle. I looked everywhere for a tap and in the end, I came upon a vacation care class at a school next to the park where all the cars had parked for lunch.

It was great fun learning how my new car (it started the event with only 300km on the odometer, great way to run in a new car!) behaved in the varied conditions and I was hoping to not lose too much time to the 4WD cars that tend to have an advantage in wet conditions. I thought it would be good if I could stay in touch with the Beable GTR and try to catch them later in the week if the weather dried out which would suit my car better. You can imagine my surprise when at the end of Leg 1, I checked my times to discover that I’d won every stage of the day and had pulled a gap of nearly 1:30 to the second placed Subaru STi with the Beable GTR in third a few seconds behind!

Leg 2 – Georgetown on Anzac Day – shortest day

Due to the Anzac Day public holiday, there was only one stage, so we had quite a late report time of 11:20am at the Silverdome. It was a ‘special stage’ in the streets of Georgetown about 40 minutes north of Launceston. The stage was only 4.79km long (compared to 73.3km of competitive stages on day 1) so the main thing was to stay clear of the savage gutters and not damage the car.

Leg 3 – Launceston to Burnie – longest day

The unreliable weather forecast worked in our favour when the rain we had expected didn’t eventuate, I woke to clearing skies for an early 8am report time to the Silverdome. It was a fantastic day of driving which included the classic stages of Cethana and Riana. The dry conditions really suited us and we completed a clean sweep of all 7 stages increasing our lead to nearly 4 minutes.

Leg 4 – Burnie to Strahan – feeling nervous in the wet for the first time

After a chilly start, we continued our good form in dry conditions winning all the morning stages before lunch. After lunch, the weather started to close in but didn’t bucket down until after the glorious 20 odd km stage of Hellyer Gorge. We had a great run through Hellyer Gorge but the Subaru STi of Woodman / Towle pipped us by a second. We were happy for them to have a win, they were great blokes and had firmly put themselves into second place with the Beable GTR in third. The last two stages were very wet and slippery and for the first time I felt nervous; gripping the steering wheel harder than normal and even though I was aware of it, I couldn’t stop. The Subaru beat us over the last two wet stages of the day but we still increased our lead by 25 seconds for Leg 4 thanks to our great dry running before lunch.

Leg 5 – Strahan to Hobart – time to dig in and have some fun

It was great to have over 4-minutes lead with the wet conditions that had set in as we rolled into Strahan. It really took the pressure of knowing that we didn’t have to push as we had a comfortable buffer. With 3 days of rallying under my belt, I became more confident in the car with the various conditions we experienced. We left a wet Strahan in the morning with the iconic Queenstown aka ’99 bends’ as the second stage of the day. If ever there was a stage made for the Lotus this would be it – but unfortunately it was wet, meaning we couldn’t attack it like we would in the dry. I decided to just enjoy the slippery conditions, letting the car slide around a bit. We probably had a bit too much fun and ended up losing the stage by 1 second to the Beable GTR.

The epic 52.91km Mt Arrowsmith stage was next, and even though it was still wet we really managed to get into the groove and put some more distance between us and the rest of the field. Unfortunately, the Subaru STi of Woodman/Towle blew their engine on the next stage, Tarraleah, which saw them miss the rest of the day and fall from second position to last place. Their misfortune was to the gain of the Duursma/Wodhams Lotus Exige who went from a distant fourth to a solid third on the podium. The last three stages of Leg 4 were dry and we increased our lead to over 8 minutes with only the final day’s 6 stages and 66km of competitive distance to complete.

Leg 6 – time to bring it home

The last day was all dry running and we continued with our ‘100% fun, 0% risk’ approach. It was great to see that our friends were back in their Subaru STi, they had put a new engine in overnight and were able to take the start for the final day of the event.

The only thing left for us to do was to see if we could stretch out the lead to more than 10 minutes. It worked out that we needed to pull ~2 seconds/km to get to the target, significantly more than the ~1 second/km we had been averaging for the first 5 days. We were doing more than that over the first few stages and after the second last stage of Cygnet we already had more than 10 minutes in hand.

All that was left to do was enjoy Longley – the last stage of the event.

Winner’s podium and where to from here…

I experienced mixed emotions coming to a stop after the end of Longley. It was great to seal the victory and take a clean sweep of the 6 stages on the final day but at the same time it was the end of driving free on some of the best roads in the world. I think I’ve found my calling as a driver, Targa Tasmania has won me over and I’ll definitely be back… just not sure where to take my driving from here. I’ll be competing at Targa High Country at Mt Buller later this year and there is a 4 round National Targa Championship that is going to be launched in 2018. There is also a revamped ‘Rookie Rallye’ for first timers in the open (no speed limit!) competition that I would be eligible for.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but one thing I can say for sure as I’m writing this blog post is that the “post-Targa blues” as they call it have definitely set in and I’m already counting the days until next year’s event!

Come for a ride along, see the on board video of Longley…

Posted by Jeff Morton

Founder and Non-Executive Director of Autopia.

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