Rally cuts back on days to make it easier for drivers

The popular Targa Rally New Zealand has been ticking along year after year and this week brings the 19th running of the event.

This year 80-plus competitors and 50 associated Targa Tour participants cover almost 650km of closed special stages and 1225km of transport stages over four days.

The event has an unusual start place in Auckland tomorrow and contestants will whizz through New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Havelock North before ending in Taupo on Sunday, November 3.

Drivers will have the added adventure of starting on the grounds of internet entrepreneur and keen fast car fan Kim Dotcom's mansion near Coatesville, north of Auckland.


Dotcom will open the grounds of the mansion for documentation and scrutineering today and will flag the 130-odd cars away early tomorrow morning.

Targa organiser Peter Martin has made a few tweaks to this year's event to appeal to a wider group of drivers. Chief among them is reducing the number of days competitors have to put aside for the event.

"Over the last few years due to the downturn in the economy we've found a lot of people have become time poor," said Martin.

"We've restructured the event and compacted it. You still get the benefit of the huge stage mileage the Targa offers, but not the total number of days you have to be away from the office.

"We now get to gather the day before and then start the Targa on Thursday and race until Sunday, which will also have the prize-giving that afternoon/evening.

"It used to be a nine-day event but now has four days of racing - pretty much the same mileage we used to do in five days - but the whole event is now compacted into five instead of nine days.

"That's been really well received as half the race is now during the week and the other half on the weekend, which means people have to only take two or three days off work. It's not just how it affects the drivers, it's also the officials, the volunteers, the emergency services and all the other 2500 people we need to make the event work."

One driver who is looking forward to going for a skid is five-time Targa New Zealand winner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett. The pair have won the last four, as well as regional events here and the Targa Tasmania.

"Without question Targa New Zealand is one of the best run and best value-for-money events that I do," said Quinn.

"If there's any Targa event I should miss, it's probably this one, because I am so busy, but next year's is the 20th anniversary event, which I have already started planning for, so I would like to keep my starting record intact for that."

Quinn and Tillett are going to have to bring their A-game if they want their fifth trophy. Having taken the fight to Quinn last year before crashing out, former rally driver Glenn Inkster and his co-driver, Spencer Winn, have upgraded to a later-model Mitsubishi Evo.

"With us in the Eco Evo, Tony and Naomi, and Clark Proctor and Sue O'Neill in GT-Rs, Leigh Hopper and Simon Kirkpatrick in their Subaru and guys like Jason Gill and Todd Bawden in their Mitsis the field at the front is the strongest it has ever been," said Inkster.

Hopper in particular is due for a top result in the main Targa event, he and co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick have won the Targa Rotorua twice but has been unlucky in the main event despite being quick.

Members of the public are welcome at Dot Com's mansion this afternoon and evening, and a shuttle bus will run to and from the mansion from the nearby Coatesville School between 3pm and 8pm.

Proceeds from ticket sales (available at www.targa.co.nz) go to the official Targa charity Kids In Cars.