When they line up outside Rydges Rotorua Hotel on Saturday morning for the start of the annual Targa Rotorua tarmac motor rally, Auckland pair Jason Gill and co-driver Mark Robinson (Mitsubishi Evo 9) will head what Event Director Peter Martin has labelled as 'the strongest Rotorua field yet.'
Targa event regular Gill is a former Targa Seria Campione (series) title winner who has finished runner-up in both main Targa and Targa Rotorua events in previous years and says that he can't wait for the flag to drop on this year's two-day event.
"The car is good and we're ready," he said today. "So bring it on."
Seeded second on his return to the Rotorua event is former five-time main Targa event winner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett, back in Quinn's four-time Targa NZ-winning Nissan GT-R35, while seeded third is 2014 Targa Rotorua winner Leigh Hopper and co-driver Michael Goudie in a Mitsubishi Evo 3.
All up the event has attracted 59 entries across the three competition classes, as well as 25 for the allied but non-competitive Targa Tour.
As well as the return of a large number of key car/driver combinations, 2013 Targa New Zealand winner Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant from Dunedin are debuting Dippie's new Porsche, the latest 991 GT3 RS, while former local, Mike Lowe, and co-driver Philip Sutton will give Targa event veteran Lowe's new second-generation Fiat Abarth Asseto Corse its first run in a Rotorua event.
One of only six similar models in the country, the Dippie Porsche is the latest in a long and distinguished line of genuine factory RS (lightweight) 911s built in limited numbers by the factory
Though finished in the same distinctive orange as the 2007 997 GT3 Dippie and Grant have used in past years it is new from the ground up.
The engine is now a 4.0 litre boxer six (up from the 3.6 litre of the older model) and now produces 500hp, and the gearbox is now equipped with a sequential shifting mechanism.
"It's significantly different, and built to be driven and driven hard," it's proud owner said this week.
As well as more power and torque, Porsche claim a major improvement to the car's aero package thanks to the big vents on the front guards and turbo-style intakes in the rear flanks which provide a ram-air boost to the engine as road speed and engine revs increase.
Dippie, who has been seeded number one in the Global Security Modern 2WD class, first drove the new car at Cromwell's Highlands Motorsport Park circuit in January and clocked up 1000kms behind the wheel before it was despatched to Auckland where the Giltrap Group fitted a genuine factory roll cage and prepared it for its Targa event debut in Rotorua this weekend.
Also back this year is former Rotorua man Mike Lowe and co-driver Phillip Sutton in Lowe's new Fiat Abarth. Photo / ProShotz
Meanwhile, the only driver to start and finish all 21 main Targa events run so far, former Rotorua but now Adelaide-based Mike Lowe, has only missed one Targa Rotorua event (last year's) and - having relocated to Australia several years ago now - is looking forward to returning for what he still considers his 'home' event.
Since a class-winning debut in last year's main Targa event Lowe's New Zealand-based crew has stripped and rebuilt his 'new' Fiat 500 Abarth (a 2008 model), upgrading the turbocharger, rebuilding the gearbox and adding some factory-supplied suspension and brake parts.
The result should be 'an extra 30 horsepower' though Lowe believes the upgraded brake package will play just as big a part in helping him shave seconds off his stage times.
"Our roads are unique in the world, and very hard on brakes, much harder than race tracks in fact as with very few straight bits there is little time for them to cool down."
Targa events always attract plenty of interest from owners of older, classic cars, with this year's Rotorua one no different. Rex McDonald and Daniel Prince are expected to be one of the quickest BMW 3-series pairings, while father and son Eddie and Ben Grooten will again fly the Porsche flag in Grooten senior's 1978 911. If his spectacular, giant-killing past performances are anything to go by, Wanganui's Pat Dillon and co-driver Toni will also be worth watching in Dillon's distinctive Kermit green Ford Anglia.
Back for some more tarmac time, having enjoyed contesting the last two days of the 2015 Targa NZ event in the Hawke's Bay, is former New Zealand (gravel) rally champ Chris West. He will be behind the wheel of the new locally-developed Evo 10-engined Mitsubishi Mirage Evolution, a car similar in concept and execution to the VW Polo of New Plymouth driver John Rae and Rotorua event co-driver Blair Read, and the NZ AP4-spec i20 Hyundai driven by WRC ace Hayden Paddon in the recent Otago and Whangarei gravel rallies.
Paddon's locally-built Hyundai i20 will also be in Rotorua this weekend, in fact, being driven in the Targa Tour as part of a Hyundai New Zealand promotion by Auckland rally driver Malcolm Smith.
Other drivers performing promo duties with the event are former V8 Supercar driver and now TV pundit Greg Murphy, driving a supercharged HSV Clubsport R8, and 'Racing Ray' Williams who will be behind the wheel of a new Ford Mustang GT V8.
Scrutineering and sign-on for competitors this year is this Friday (May 13) at VTNZ in Marguerita Street in Rotorua with Leg One of the event starting at 8.00am on Saturday morning from Rydges Rotorua on Fenton Street.
During the day on Saturday there will be service stops in Putaruru and Cambridge before a return to Rotorua where after a car wash and end of day service the cars will go into parc ferme at Rydges Rotorua hotel.
Sunday's Leg Two start is at 8.15 am at Rydges with a morning service at Ngakuru School south of the city then lunchtime, afternoon tea and final event services all at Rydges Rotorua before the first car is expected to cross the finish line at 3.40pm.