Hawke’s Bay claims honour of hosting first major post-Lockdown Targa

| Photographer Credit: ProShotz

The eyes of Kiwi motorsport fans from Kaitaia to Bluff will be on Havelock North and environs this weekend as the city hosts the rescheduled Targa Hawke’s Bay tarmac motor rally, the first major New Zealand motorsport event since the COVID-19 Lockdown was lifted.

The two-day event was originally scheduled to run over the May 16-17 weekend. And though the man behind it, Ultimate Rally Group owner and Targa events’ Event Director Peter Martin, accepted that it had to be postponed, he was adamant – even during the depths of Lockdown – that it would go ahead, rather than simply being cancelled, at some point.

That point actually turned out to be sooner rather than later, thanks largely, says Martin, to the ‘overwhelmingly positive, let’s do-this’ attitude from his event partners in ‘The Bay.

Included in this group are the various councils, councillors and staff through to accommodation and food and beverage providers as well as the ‘local folk who welcome us into their communities, big or small, every time we turn up with one of our events.’

“It was certainly refreshing working with such a positive group – particularly through the uncertainty and in some cases, fear, of the first few weeks of Lockdown,” says Martin. ‘At that point it seemed like we were the only people in the country looking forward to the day when the restrictions would actually be relaxed and we could get back to a semblance of normal life again, yet here we are, only – what ? – eight weeks later,  and we’re back ready to go again. Fantastic!”

Under Level 1, of course, and with only teams of resident Kiwis entered, the event can go ahead pretty much as it might have in May – had the COVID-19 pandemic not swept the world.

With drivers and co-drivers effectively ‘self-isolating’ for the greater part of any Targa event inside their cars, and the event itself spread over 755.40km of closed public roads from Havelock North in the east of the province to Dannevirke in the far south-west, this weekend’s Hawke’s Bay event is the antithesis of the sort of large, stadium-style, single day sporting events the government was so concerned about under the Level 3 and even Level 2 restrictions.

Also expected to battle for a top 3 spot is fellow Aucklander Jason Gill and his co-driver Mark Robinson in Gill’s VW Polo R (#972)

Despite that Martin has cut out much of the pre and post-event gathering and socialising which pre-COVID-19 was considered essential, and which, he hopes to be able to add back into future events when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Entry is all contact-free via email, for instance, and the traditional drivers’ briefing will his weekend be available via video link. There will also be no traditional prize-giving dinner on Sunday evening – with all certificates and trophies posted or couriered out next week.

Understandably, numbers are slightly down on those of last year’s Targa Hawke’s Bay event, with 35 entries in the competition section and 18 in the allied Targa Tour.

There has been no drop-off in quality, however, with the likes of former Targa NZ outright winners and traditionally quickest of the 2WD entrants, Martin Dippie and Jona Grant (Porsche 991 GT3RS) from Dunedin, set to again take the action to the 4WDs of Aucklander David Rogers and co-driver Shane Reynolds (Mitsubishi Evo 10) (- main picture), and Leigh Hopper and his co-driver Michael Goudie (Subaru Impreza WRX).

Also expected to be battling for a spot on the event podium are Targa event stalwarts Jason Gill and his co-driver Malcolm Read (VW Polo R) from Auckland, and Palmerston North pairings, Brian Green and Fleur Pedersen, and Bruce Herbert/Bevan Parker (both Mitsubishi Evo 10).

Top local pairing Ivan Knauf and co-driver Trevor Corbin (Subaru Impreza WRX) should also be a factor. While in the Classic classes it is hard to look past the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 of Mark McCaughan and co-driver Lindsay Lyons.

The Targa Tour remains a popular part of the annual Targa NZ event

The Targa Tour has also again proved popular with the owners of exotic sports, luxury and performance cars, Porsche again the most popular marque.

Once this weekend’s Targa Hawke’s Bay is done and dusted the focus of the country’s tarmac rally specialists will turn to the full five-day 2020 Targa New Zealand event being run in the North Island between October 14 and 18.

For more information go to www.targa.co.nz or check out the Targa NZ page on Facebook.

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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