They’ll be no easing into this year’s marathon six-day Targa New Zealand for last year’s winners, Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn, who are expecting a battle royal with five-time former event winner Tony Quinn and his co-driver Naomi Tillett when the event starts on Labour Day morning at the Ellerslie Event Centre in Auckland’s Greenlane at 9.00am.
“I’ve learnt a lot of hard lessons from Tony,” Mitsubishi Evo 8 driver Inkster said on the eve of this year’s bumper 1000-plus km special stage event. “No matter how much he tells you he will be dawdling on the first day you just have to look at the stage times. He’ll be blazing tomorrow and we will be too!”
Quinn is the Queensland-based Scot who built up and recently sold the VIP Pet Foods business across the Tasman and now owns both the Highlands Park and Hampton Downs motor racing circuits here.
He and Tillett won four Targa NZ events in a row between 2009 and 2012 before taking a year off in 2013 then crashing out of the 20th annual event last year in the Lamborghini Huracan he bought to replace his long-serving – not to mention very successful – Nissan GT-R35.
The pair are back in a Nissan GT-R35 for the 21st annual event which starts tomorrow.
Ahead of them and the other entrants – this year’s field is made up of around 60 competition cars and 20 in the concurrent but non-competitive Targa Tour – are 35 closed special stages comprising a total of 1035.5kms linked by 1431.7kms of touring stages, a new record for the New Zealand event.
Monday’s Prologue stages are based around the Quinn-owned Hampton Downs motor racing circuit in the northern Waikato with two 11.06km Plantation stages west of Te Kauwhata in the morning followed by the 22.06km Glen Murray and 18.95km Rotongaro stages west of Huntly in the afternoon.
After the first overnight stop in Hamilton on Monday night the event then heads south-west for two days of stages in Taranaki (with two nights in New Plymouth) then east to Palmerston North and Havelock North before returning west for the finish at Palmerston North (at the city’s Square) on Saturday October 31.
Having already won the one-day Metalman Targa NZ Rally Sprint at Papakura in March, and the three-day Targa Bambina between Auckland and Rotorua in May, Inkster and Winn are the obvious favourites, though Inkster is expecting nothing less than a full-on attempt to wrest back the title from a fired-up Quinn and Tillett.
“Tony always brings his A game to the main event and it would be a real achievement to beat him over the whole event, and not just win by default or because of him crashing.
“It would be good, you know, if we had a ding-dong battle all week because we’ve had some amazing battles with Tony and Naomi through the years.”
Also in the mix this year in the overall standings are 2013 event winners Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant from Dunedin in Dippie’s Porsche 911 GT3, event regulars Leigh Hopper and Simon Kirkpatrick in Hopper’s much-modified Subaru WRX, and the Mitsubishi Evo 10s of Aucklanders David Rogers and Aidan Kelly, and rally stalwart Brian Green and co-driver Fleur Pedersen.
The 2015 event also sees the Targa debut of a new Volkswagen Polo-based tarmac rally special to be driven by former speedway and SuperGT class ace, John Rae with David Leuthart in the co-driver’s seat.
Set to add interest to the Modern 2WD class, meanwhile, is Mike Lowe and co-driver Philip Sutton who last year celebrated Lowe’s 20th Targa New Zealand event behind the wheel of his diminutive 1964 Fiat Abarth 1000.
After finishing the 2014 event Lowe left the little Abarth in the care of the National Motorsport Museum at Highlands Park, and replaced it with its modern-day successor, an Abarth Assetto Corse works race car converted to R3T tarmac rally specification.
Clark Proctor and co-driver Sue O’Neill are also back in Proctor’s Nissan-engined Ford Escort with competition in the Modern 2WD class expected to come from Martin Dippie and Jona Grant and husband and wife pair Ross and Carmel Johnson from New Plymouth in their Holden Torana A9X V8.
In the Metalman Classic 2WD drive class it’s hard to look past a member of the Kirk-Burnnand family with last year’s class event class winner Mark and father Chris again spearheading the attack in their M3 BMW.
Last year though Nelson man Bruce Farley put up a serious challenge in his BMW 325i and he returns this year keen to improve on the third in class he and co-driver Tim Eddington achieved on debut a year ago.
Also back for another year from Queensland’s Far North, are husband and wife Keith and and Mary Anne Callinan in one of a number of Mk 11 Ford Escort RS1800s entered in the event.
Former V8 Supercar ace and now TV presenter Greg Murphy will also join the event for the first time from Tuesday driving one of the two promo (non-competitive) cars, an HSV GEN-F..
The promo cars run ahead of the main field with Murphy and fellow former racer, ‘Racing Ray’ Williams acting as roving ambassadors.
Information on both the main (six-day) 2015 Targa New Zealand and two-day Targa Regional Rally events is available on the event website www.targa.co.nz or in the latest copy of NZ Classic Car magazine.