Motorsport: Targa tweaked to keep tarmac attack fresh

One of NZ's biggest motorsport events comes back with new challenges.

Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillet's Nissan GTR, Targa 2011. Photo / Fast Company/ GroundSky
Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillet's Nissan GTR, Targa 2011. Photo / Fast Company/ GroundSky

A mixture of old and new stages in October's Targa rally will help keep it fresh and challenging for regular campaigners as they tackle the North Island countryside for five days at race pace.

Back by popular demand are the Inglewood Jumps and Whangamomona stages in Taranaki on the second day, and already eagerly anticipated are the two new Gentle Annie stages between Rangitikei and Hawkes Bay on the fourth.

From humble beginnings 19 years ago Targa New Zealand is now one of New Zealand's biggest and most popular multi-day motorsport events attracting entries - this year the number looks set to again top the 100 mark - from as far afield as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For several years the event started in Auckland and ended in Wellington, but last year it headed north to Whangarei and environs before returning south to eventually end in Havelock North.

This year it kicks off in Auckland again and ends in Havelock North, but the route in between is completely different.

Targa event director Peter Martin says this variety is one of the keys to the event's ongoing success.

"The key is keeping things fresh. Obviously there will always be old favourites, like the Inglewood Jumps stage in Taranaki and the Kaokaoroa Valley in Hawkes Bay, but the secret is to not use them every year," said Martin.

In all, this year's event will feature 33 special stages for a total of 878.3 competition and 1348.2 touring kilometres. Stage length varies from the marathon 47.53 km Kawhia Harbour between Oparau and Marakopa on Day 1 to the short and sweet 8.32km Tuki Tuki east of Havelock North on the final day.

Two stages that everyone involved is looking forward to are Gentle Annie West and Gentle Annie East on the Friday. Until recently the infamous Gentle Annie road from north of Taihape on the western side of the Ruahine Ranges to Waiwhare in the east was gravel, but since it has been sealed it now presents the perfect new challenge.

Because of the road's length it has been split into two 39km stages with a short transport stage in between.

Though entries have yet to close, just on 60 have so far signed up for the main event with an extra 15 for the two-day Targa Hawke's Bay event-within-an-event on the Friday and Saturday, and 28 for the concurrent Targa Tour - a non-competitive drive for those not willing or able to commit to prepping a full-noise race machine.

Obvious favourites this year are the Aussie pairing of Tony Quinn - the man behind the Highlands motorsport project near Cromwell - and co-driver Naomi Tillett, in their Nissan GTR. They will be gunning for their fourth win in as many years.

Their biggest challenge is likely to come from Mitsubishi Evo 6 pair Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn, who finished runners-up last year, and the Nissan GT-R of event regulars Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit.

There will also be interest in the progress of Florida-based expat Gavin Riches and wife Aimee in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

The battle for supremacy in the Metalman Classic 2WD category, meanwhile, looks like it will again be a hard-fought family affair. Wellington-based Mark Kirk-Burnnand and his co-driving father Chris share joint favourite status with Chris' Auckland-based brother Barry Kirk-Burnnand and his co-driver son Steven in BMW M3s.

Targa New Zealand starts in Auckland on Tuesday, October 23, and finishes in Havelock North on Saturday, October 27.

It will again benefit the Cure Kids charity - and this year's target is $50,000. If that is met, Targa events will have raised over $500,000 for Cure Kids in the last decade.

- NZ Herald

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