Two-time event winners Glenn Inkster and co-driver Spencer Winn (Mitsubishi Evo 8 4WD) head a strong entry for this year's Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally starting in Taupo on Thursday.
Previous Targa New Zealand events have run over five or six days and started the Tuesday after Labour Day. This year's shorter, earlier four-day event from Taupo to Havelock North starts on Thursday, finishes on Sunday (October 16) and has attracted a 136-strong field across the two main categories (competition and tour).
As in previous years at least four and possibly even five or six pairings are expected to vie with 2014 and 2015 event winners Inkster and Winn for overall victory, with another seven or eight pairings in line for class honours across the AndrewSimms.co.nz Allcomers 4WD, Global Security Modern 2WD and Metalman Classic 2WD categories.
Included in the group set to battle for overall honours are five-time former event winner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett, this time in a late model two-wheel-drive Porsche 991 GT3 RS after previous efforts in a Nissan GT-35 and Lamborghini Huracan, and this year's Targa Rotorua event winners, Leigh Hopper and co-driver Michael Goudie, in a four-wheel-drive Subaru WRX Impreza.
With fellow regular front-runner Jason Gill and his co-driver Mark Robinson also in a 4WD car (a Mitsubishi Evo 9), and 2013 winner Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant in a two-wheel-drive Porsche 991 GT3 RS similar to the one Quinn and Tillett will be in, the event is shaping up to be a battle of available grip with the roads and weather set to play a key part.
As well as a field of 66 race-prepared cars entered in the main event, a further 10 are set to join in Palmerston North on Saturday morning for the two-day Targa Regional Rally contested over the final two days in the Manawatu and Hawke's Bay regions.
Growing interest in the allied but non-competitive Targa Tour also sees one of the biggest fields to date with 45 entered for the full four days and a further 15 joining for the two-day Targa Regional Tour on Saturday and Sunday.
A feature of this year's Tour entry is the number of exotic late model sports cars including a McLaren 650S Spider, five Aston Martins, three Bentleys and a Lamborghini Huracan.
After last year's world-first 1000+km marathon over six days - and the 20th annual odyssey from Christchurch to Queenstown in 2014 also over six days - this year's events returns to its roots with 663.5 kms of closed special stages through the centre of the North Island linked by 970.3km of touring stages over four days.
Documentation is on Wednesday October 12 at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park with parc ferme overnight at the Wairakei Resort and the event proper leaving Taupo at 7.00am on Thursday morning for a first overnight stop at Ohakune.
Leg two on Friday takes the field from Ohakune to Palmerston North, Leg three on Saturday from Palmerston North via the Gentle Annie road to Havelock North, before Sunday's final leg in and around Hawke's Bay, complete with ceremonial finish back in Havelock North and prize giving that evening at the Hawke's Bay Opera House in Hastings.
A special feature on the eve of the 50th Targa event (over Targa NZ, Targa North Island, Targa Bambina and Targa Rotorua) held in this country is the inaugural Giltrap Group Legends Night Dinner being held at the Wairakei Resort Taupo on Wednesday October 12.
A Targa legend is defined as a past or present winner, its equivalent or someone who has made an outstanding contribution to Targa in NZ or in another arena such as administration or media.