Motorsport: Underdog Hastings driver made of Tough stuff for Targa Rally segment

By Anendra Singh

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Hastings driver Nathan Tough is expecting to secure a top-four finish in his class this weekend. PHOTO/Warren Buckland
Hastings driver Nathan Tough is expecting to secure a top-four finish in his class this weekend. PHOTO/Warren Buckland

When the going gets tough in the motor rallying domain Hawke's Bay driver Nathan Tough, as sure as tyre on tarmac and gravel, gets going in his moderate metal beast.

"That's what I'm renowned for - the giant killer, the underdog," says Tough, of Hastings, making his maiden entry in the two-day Targa Hawke's Bay from today.

"Most people come to an event and go, 'Uh', you know, they don't count me in for an overall result, but quite often on gravel you can beat four-wheel-drive machines," says the 40-year-old, who will have co-driver Greg Browne of Feilding alongside him in the Honda CR-X.

Browne is also a sponsor as the owner of GT Oils (Total) in his home town.

The rally starts and finishes at the Village Green in Havelock North. It incorporates 15 closed special stages covering 378.5km and a total of 585.2km of touring stages across the Bay.

A single-day event-within-an-event today, the Rally of Hawke's Bay, staged in conjunction with the Hawke's Bay Car Club, comes under the umbrella of the larger rally.

Tough and Browne are in the 1400cc-1850cc category this weekend for a rally that has lured 59 entries in competitive classes.

It'll be his first tarmac stage rally on public roads, rather than a single-venue rally where they change the format each day by injecting chicanes and other such hurdles.

It's his stomping grounds so Tough knows the roads like the back of his hand.

"My expectation is I'd like to think I'll be in the top four in the Hawke's Bay Rally but, of course, whether that's achievable with some of the cars coming I'm not 100 per cent sure."

Regardless, he's going to back himself. He has put asterixes beside Middle Rd and stretches of tarseal through the Crownthorpe/Matapiro settlement.

"One of the best will be Middle Rd because I've always wanted to race down that."

The warehouse manager at Tomoana Warehousing Limited says his Honda CR-X packs a grunt of 180 horsepower at the wheels and 210hp at the flywheel.

More money or a newer car means that horsepower can reach a threshold of 300hp for some makes and models. Tough will bank on his nous and experience to negate that advantage rivals will bring to the road.

In 18 years of competing he has clocked up about nine rallies but hopes to do the front-wheel-drive category two of the national class of the full NZ Rally Championship in January next year.

The former Hastings Boys' High School pupil recalls the days when he drove his Datsuns along Middle Rd all the way down to Elsthorpe two to three times a week.

His love for everything petrolhead grew when he rode in the Mark II Ford Escort of Tony Baird when he drove it to HBHS.

"It was a little club car with race seats and a roll cage," says the former Heretaunga Intermediate and Raureka School pupil. "That's where I got introduced to it, then my natural like of cars grew from there."

For several years Tough became a lackey for numerous HB Car Club members.

"I was part of a service crew for many different guys from the car club doing rallies around North Island."

On turning 19, he bought a Datsun 1600 as his first rally car, which he classifies as a "basic club car with a seat in it so I could do anything except for a rally".

Tough crashed that car in his fifth event, an Argyll Rd hillclimb in Central Hawke's Bay, flying off a cliff into a 10m drop that caused the Datsun to roll across the paddock. The smash resulted in a writeoff and left him a little rattled.

"Of course I couldn't afford to buy another car straightaway so I had a break for another year or two until I started working and could afford something else."

That something else was a 160J, again a club car for a bloke sold on Datsuns - and who emphasises he still is although they cost an arm and a leg.

A couple of years later he ventured to Masterton to procure parts for the 160J from a 1600, but as it turned out he ended up buying the entire vehicle.

"I brought that car back with the intention of swapping everything over but thought, 'I'll give it a go'," he says, instead taking parts out of the 160J to bolster the 1600.

"I did a couple of lengths in that and really loved it. It handled quite well and was a nicely balanced car so I moved the 160J on and I continued with the 1600."

Then a trainee joiner, he finished his apprenticeship with the furniture maker and started work as an owner/driver for Mainfreight which kept him ticking over for a decade.

"I've always been a tarmac fan but I prefer gravel - I probably still do - but I liked tarmac more and more," says Tough, who has been doing the New Zealand Hillclimb Championship for four years.

"The speed, the challenge, the control - like putting the car where you want to on the road."

The 2014 two-wheel-drive hillclimb championship winner emphasises that traction-wise, rally tyres and normal ones are chalk and cheese.

"The car is very direct, you get a lot more grip - you do slide but there's always grip."

Tarmac tends to have more grip but when you let it go you seldom catch it, whereas with gravel movement is guaranteed but so is consistency in traction, he reckons.

Hey, what about the skills of the driver?

"Oh, yeah, a little bit of that, I suppose," he says with a chuckle.

Tough hastens to add that he finds tarmac easier than gravel because there's less going on.

"The car's not moving around as much, not bouncing as much so I find it easier to concentrate," says the driver, who has tamed the Taupo tarmac track circuit and track rallies.

His dream is to do the full season of the NZ Rally Championship, which involves gravel bar one tarmac leg.

"I'll have to work my way up to that level and prove myself to the sponsors first because it's very hard to get them to commit when they can't see the results ... "

A full-week Targa also beckons but the cost, with a minimum of $20,000 or so to cover fuel, tyres and accommodation - not to mention incidentals arising from repair work. Entry fees alone are between $7500-$9000.

The other sponsors for this weekend's rally are Tomoana Warehousing and Mag and Tyre Warehouse (Hastings).

His elder son Ryan, 9, is "car crazy" and helps him with the rally car while Ben, 7, is happy to follow but isn't that clued up just yet.

Asked what wife Rebecca feels about his adrenalin fix, Tough says: "I always say she chose to marry me and I was driving before we married."

It's not that he is silly with the household income but Rebecca appreciates that rallying is an outlet for him.

"I kind of find it quite therapeutic and good for the depression levels," he says.

"It's just letting the aggression out of you so after a good weekend's racing I feel refreshed."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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