2015 Targa Tasmania

Climate Change Shock: Dry Track!

Report by Brian Dermott. Pics courtesy angrymanphotography.com.au.

As autumn takes hold of the dramatic landscape of Tasmania and fog and driving rain and frost starts to penetrate the deep green folds of the land, that’s when you know its Targa time. This very testing marathon of concentration and old school driving skill, demanding personal determination and logistical prowess, usually supplies bad weather as a great leveller of car performance and competitor budget. So often the bad weather arrives on the last days, after tyres have been well worn down by gripping the abrasive roads in balmy sunshine.

But this year, every one of the 38 stages and 481 competitive kilometres was dry – albeit sometimes very cold with dark damp corners always lurking (Peter Brock’s corner claimed five cars this year). So at last it was a chance for big power to come to the front. And the field of pre-1973 historic touring cars certainly provided that.

Nowhere else in Australia can you see a better prepared, more varied collection of old racing tintops. The 16 entries comprised 12 different makes and models. The familiar Group N display of Toranas and Monaros and Amazons and Falcon GTs were mobbed by the Targafest crowds in the Silverdome, but there was also a massive Ford Galaxie Factory Lightweight coupe alongside a tiny Austin A35 and Anglia 105E.  Less familiar was the deceptively innocuous looking Ford Zephyr and Alfa Giulia Sprints. And there were exotics such as the 6-litre Jensen CV8 and the Holden 215.

Compared to the boring rows of Turbojaps and Porkers which populate the Targa field, our cars are always the focus of crowd attention. OK, plus Tony Quinn’s brand new McLaren 650S in it’s first competitive outing – and no, Paul Batten did not get a chance to set it up before it left Woking. Tony was still reading the instruction book to find out how to make it work…

So they’re off into the sunshine of the Tamar valley and big drama, when half the field were hit with a 5 minute penalty for having gone too fast on the first stage. To ease people into fast driving after a year of tootling round the suburbs at 60 kph, CAMS set a new maximum and minimum time for the first day. This is the first time such a thing had been imposed and many navigators fluffed it. There was a lot of huffing and puffing (and a few tears among the lady navs). Eventually – two days later – CAMS had to admit that the process of issuing the offending bulletin had not been correct and pulled the penalties. Cue the other half of the field huffing and puffing…

Six long days of hectic and very high speed competition later, 13 pre-73 touring cars rolled across the new finish line on the Hobart Wharf a few minutes before the heavens opened with the rain the little cars had been yearning for. But another benefit of the dry roads were only three DNFs, all mechanical.

By far the best pre-73 was the purple Jensen CV8 of Pete and Sari Ulrich, multiple HTCAV Rally Champions and this year, sensationally, third in Classic Outright. But Pete was not happy: “Really cranky letting bloody Barry past by 6 seconds …’ texted the Champ. Yes he and Sari were pipped on the last stage for second by the fire breathing Mazda RX7 turbo of last years’ winner. Pete explained “the old southern loop is so bumpy our back wheels hardly ever hit the road …”  There are several in this Club who can vouch for the problems of driving fast in the roads of the Huon Valley.

No need to be unhappy Pete. This is the best outright classic pre-73 touring car achievement since Steve Coad’s third spot in 2007 in his rocketship Monaro and the best ever by a Limited Modified Spec Historic Touring Car since the outright competition was introduced in 2006. This triumph comes after the 6-litre Jensen finished in the weeds of Mt Arrowsmith in TT14, when a lurid spin in streaming rain overtaking a modern Aston Martin sent the Jen home with big holes in the rear fibreglass and bent tubes.

Some way back in second were Paul and Christine Freestone in the amazing Harrop-designed Holden 215, possibly doing its last Targa. Not many people win a Golden Diamond  Targa Trophy, which you get for completing 12 events (in minimum groupings of three consecutive) without failing the minimum time on any of the 480 stages they completed! Many Targas have been entered without the competitors getting a single plate.

The usual practice if you’re up for a big Targa trophy is to take it a bit easier to make sure you don’t stuff it up. But you don’t get to be Australia’s most successful independent truck operator by thinking that way and the Freestone’s Roadhaven race boot was through the firewall over every single kilometre. With his eye well in after a successful season in Touring Car Masters with the Camaro, Paul was on it big time.

But in the dry, 380 six cylinder red motor bhp was just not enough – especially not enough torque – and P5 outright was as good as they could do. Plus they took home the glamorous Diamond  Targa Trophy on gala night – which, after 20 TTs, came with a free entry to next year.

Our third crew was the irrepressible Woody and ‘Nadg’ – Neil Gibson – in the well-loved yellow 69 Monaro GTS. After a sensational P4 outright last year in the wet, the dry track was looking promising for this highly experienced crew. A380 Qantas Captain Richard Woodward and Neil Gibson are frequent visitors to the HTCAV championship podium and Woody’s words at our award night last December showed everyone what it takes to succeed in an old racer. But this was not to be the Monaro’s year.

It started at scrutineering, as Nadg describes: “…this year the scrutineers had been issued with torches… so were like kids with new toys shining them everywhere. After 15 years of competition the scrutineer decided that the boot wasn’t sealed properly; Woody bought some pink flame proof expanding foam in a can, which was then liberally sprayed everywhere and he got to wear a lot of it too – he’s probably still picking bits out of his hair…”

t got worse on the first day: “… we were going OK when the gearbox suddenly decided it liked third gear and refused to come out, meaning that was all we had to complete the stage… Spud had a look at the stuck shifter, gave it a couple of smacks and all worked again “ but the next day it got worse and a third of the way through the tight forest stage Moorina it stuck in third again: “ …got to the end, quickly removed the shifter boot but couldn’t fix it from the top so Woody was under the car hitting stuff and cursing whilst I attacked it from above. After nine minutes it suddenly popped back in so off we went again, having left the boot off to fix when next stopped – you get a lot of fumes up from that hole in the floor – GAG!”

That night Spud the service magician made a good one out of a new shifter and the old one; with all four gears restored and reliable, the last few days saw them move forward relentlessly to end up in P12 outright and third best pre-73 touring car.

With Paul Batten now setting up McLarens in Spain, the best Volvo was the Amazon of Andy White and Ash Yelds, who really suffered from lack of power in the conditions and came home 7th. Andy has an uncanny car control inherited from his Reverend father, who was famed for visiting his Gippsland flock at high speed. Ash provides a very professional daily blog and describes how they regularly catch and pass earnest youths in modern rally turbo cars, who are perplexed by the speed of this baby blue old Volvo.

But keeping on edge has its moments, as Ash describes: “all went well until towards the end of Elephant Pass our pace was a little too much for our grip and we put two wheels in the dirt after we crested a tightening corner at 140 kph …”Andy controlled the lurid slide along the edge of the ditch inches from the trees and they went off to lunch.

Next up in 5th came the incredibly spectacular Ford Galaxie of Mike Moylan and Don Behets from WA; this immaculately prepared fantasy fills the roads and the senses of spectators with its awesome presence; last year the wet, foggy and treacherous Reece Dam stage caught Mike out, this year in conditions more becoming of an icon they proudly brought him home close to the top 20.

From the largest to one of the smallest entries, in 6th came Ross and Jill Steuart in the Harry Potter Ford Anglia, brilliantly described by Ash Yelds as “incomprehensibly tenacious”. Anyone who has ever battled this couple know the feeling – they are always there, always a bit closer and since you feel you should be miles ahead, that is most unsettling. Despite being a big bloke in a titchy car and driving on the edge the whole time, Ross never makes a mistake and the car never stops. Ross and Jill are truly stars of the event – let’s all hope he never brings out the one of the several V8s or V12s he has at home.

Let’s talk about last, which was Bob and son Jon from Kirrawee in NSW. Bob and Jon have been developing a Ford Zephyr with great success and have been steadily moving up the listings. But as Bob says, TT15 just was not their year – and indeed May was a bad month for Zephyrs generally with the famous ex-Tony Dron ex works car being written off at Silverstone.

Bob calls it ‘flyshit issues’ – first was on Georgetown where a carby filter sock sucked into the carby, next on Rianna the alternator wire broke off and ran the battery flat. They managed to rewire the alternator but had no side cutters – no worries, Jonathan’s young strong teeth were up to the trimming job, down there with the extractors. A clutch start in reverse and they were going again but had lost an hour. Next was falling oil pressure so they nursed it through to Strahan but it finally detonated on the Queenstown stage.

Park it ? No mate. “They towed it back to Hobart and we fitted the spare engine in six  hours and finished the event in our Maori Mustang hard on the tail of the Volvo”. Good on you Bob and Jon, look forward to seeing you at High Country!

You’ll note that I’ve not mentioned any Toranas, V8 Fords, Alfas or Dattos. None did any good by their lofty standards, all of them had dramas of various sorts and were creamed in the reliability stakes by the Davison family A30 which has been competing for ever, and although slowish, never puts a foot wrong, is sweetly driven and a credit to the old country.

Next year it’s The Big One – the 25th Anniversary; if anyone is thinking of an entry, be quick. There are only 300 spots, and it’s possibly all sold already. We couldn’t resist – we’re in!