Why Targa has been a Kiwi favourite for 25 years
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From its early beginnings, the Targa Rally has become an iconic event on the New Zealand motorsport calendar – a marathon five-day tarmac road race for professionals to car enthusiasts who are serious about testing their driving skills.
Over its 25-year history, the event has brought together an incredibly diverse collection of cars and drivers from around New Zealand and the world.
From vintage sports cars, Kiwi developed specials, Italian exotics and state-of-the-art 4WD machines; Targa New Zealand caters to them all.
From its humble beginnings 25 years ago, Targa Rally CEO Peter Martin says the event has evolved into an iconic event on the New Zealand motorsport calendar.
“We think 25 years for the Targa Rally in New Zealand is quite a milestone. The event started out being run by a group of enthusiasts, now we have a team of five full-time working on the events,” says Martin.
“Add to that the 156 officials, nearly 2000 volunteers helping to co-ordinate the 150 entries and support crews that totals nearly 500 people.
“We’re thrilled with how the event has evolved, and how competitors keep coming back year after year.”
Martin says the Targa has become one of those bucket list events for car enthusiasts of all abilities.
“Where else can you could you race a Ford Escort, Subaru WRX, your BMW M3 or Porsche GT3, in a field that includes names like Greg Murphy on a closed public road and have a bloody good laugh with mates along the way.”
Growing in popularity, Targa rallies are run all over the world and can trace their lineage to the Targa Floria event in Italy in 1906, where the event was an open road race.
Here in New Zealand, the event has evolved with smaller Targa rallies run throughout the year in different locations around the country. Within the New Zealand event there are essentially two categories of cars: at the front there are the more serious competitors in highly modified rally cars piloted by a driver and co-driver.
These competitors race against the clock and are limited to 200km/h on the fast country roads.
The second category is every growing and popular Targa Tour cars that are generally un-modified high performance road cars. The cars in the Targa Tour do not have roll cages and full harness seat belts.
While also very quick, motorsport safety rules prevent them from racing against theclock. Their maximum speed is set at 160km/h.
Both categories are monitored by officials in the form of GPS tracking, so there is no chance competitors will be able to get away with breaking the rules.
“The Targa Tour is the perfect environment for car enthusiasts to drive their car in an environment they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to, and it is a great way for people to dip their toe in the water of a motorsport event.”
Whilst there is a wide array of machinery, from Ford Anglia to Lamborghinis, Australian Mike Lowe has competed in the event for many years in his iconic 1964 Fiat Arbarth 1000.
Lowe raced his Abarth 1000, affectionately known as ‘Barty’, in Targa for 20 years, and became the most recognisable car of the event, while the last few years he has campaigned a more modern Abarth 500 Assetto Corse Rallye works-built car – ‘Barty 2’.
“We retired ‘Barty’ to the National Motorsport Museum after the finish on the 20th anniversary event, but have bought him back for one final time for this years 25th Targa,” says Lowe.
Lowe has competed in all but one Targa, missing that event while he was recovering from prostate cancer. He also has the unlucky record of being the first car to crash in a Targa event.
“We had the unfortunate record of being the first car to crash on Targa, the very first one! Day one, stage four on someone else’s oil. The car was rebuilt overnight by the Fiat Club guys and gals, and we then finished our first Targa. Making it to the finish line was an amazing feeling. We were hooked.”
Lowe has also demonstrated over the many years of events that you don’t have to have the fastest car to do well. He and his team have won their class, category, taking out the best Crew award and the Peter Brock Trophy.
“Catching four Porsches and crossing them off on our door badges, we proved you don’t need a modern, fast or expensive car to have fun and do well on Targa.”
For anyone thinking of signing up and having a crack at the Targa rally, Lowe was full of encouragement
“I have done all sorts of motorsport for over 40 years on both sides of the Tasman (circuit racing, hill climbs, Porsche Cup, Superkarts) and without doubt the best value for money, most exciting and most fun event is Targa,” says Lowe.
He said you need the “three Ps”: Preparation as Targa is an endurance event, not a sprint. Passion such as enthusiasm for your chosen marque; and above all persistence, you never ever give up.
“Targa should be on every motorsport competitors bucket list, your life is not complete until you have done Targa,” he says.