Queensland-based Scot Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett (Nissan GT-R35) have successfully defended their Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally crown, leading this year’s five-day event – which ended in Hawke’s Bay on Saturday - from start to finish.
The win is the pair’s third in as many years in the annual event and marks them as one of the most successfull pairings in its 17-year history.
Though the final day in the Hawke’s Bay on Saturday was the first in which Quinn and Tillett did not win a stage – all seven went to hard-charging young New Zealand rally ace Glenn Inkster and his co-driver Spencer Winn – the pair had done enough on the first four days to guarantee them the overall event win for another year.
“One of the things I’ve learnt over the years,” said Quinn at the finish in Havelock North,” is that to win this event you need to get in front early and stay there. That’s something I learned from Jim Richards when he was winning everything and I was finishing second or third or whatever and it’s advice I’m happy to share with whoever wants to listen. Glenn (Inkster) was trying hard today but I knew by lunch time it would take a miracle - or a decent accident – for us to lose it.”
Second – and understanding exactly what Quinn was talking about - was Inkster and his co-driving boss Spencer, with Mitsubishi Evo 10-mounted Taranaki pair Glenn Smith and Andy Lowe third, and expat Kiwi Steve Millen and his Canadian co-driver Jen Horsey (Nissan GT-R35) fourth.
Having finished second to Quinn and Tillett in his debut Targa New Zealand event last year, Inkster went into this year’s event – which started in Auckland on Tuesday October 25 – with only one thing in mind, going one better.
“That’s right,” he said. “The plan this year was to win the first stage and keep winning stages because as Tony says, if you win the first one by – say – two seconds, all you have to do is match everyone else’s times from that point on and you will win the event by two seconds.”
In theory a fresh set of roads in Northland should have played into his hands too. But it took until the third stage – across the fast, flowing Woodcocks Hill between the Kaipara Harbour and Warkworth, before the names Inkster and Winn were at the top of the time sheets. And from that point on the pair were playing catch-up.
Heading into the final two stages near Marton on Friday afternoon they were still definitely in with a chance, Inkster confident that a new set of tyres (over and above his event maximum of six) was worth more than the time penalty (30 seconds per tyre) that came with them.
Unfortunately, an extra slippery corner early in the first and two paired stage claimed several of the front runners, Inkster and Spencer included, and though they recovered to win the final stage and all seven stages today, it was not enough, Quinn and Tillett leading by two minutes and forty-two seconds at the end of the penultimate day, and one minute and eleven seconds at the end of the final one.
To their credit Inkster and Winn never gave up, their pace over the fast, flowing roads of the northern Wairarapa and central Hawke’s Bay a sight to behold.
“I knew this morning that unless something happened to Tony and Naomi we weren’t going to win, “admitted Inkster, “but there was no way I was going to back off. For one thing I still wanted to win as many stages as I could, and for another I didn’t want to get to the end and find that something had happened to Tony and Naomi but I hadn’t done enough to bridge the gap.”
Behind the dueling Quinn/Tillett and Inkster/Winn combinations, Glenn Smith and his co-driver Andy Lowe, and Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit (Nissan GT-R35) spent the final day on Saturday disputing third place. As it turned out, however, it was the copy-book consistency of Steve Millen and Jen Horsey which saw them split the Smith/Lowe and Dodson/Cupit combinations overall with South Islanders Brent Early and Andy Oakley fighting back from a rollover on Day 2 to finish sixth in their ex Targa NZ-winning Nissan Skyline R34 coupe.
Colourful former Stock Car champion and NZV8s front-runner Clark Proctor and his co-driver Tony Callaghan were also vying for a place in the top three until the final stage on Friday when their Nissan GT-R35 was slowed and eventually stopped in its tracks by a gearbox problem.
Proctor’s crew changed the car’s gearbox overnight but a selection problem re-appeared on the first stage on Saturday morning and the pair ended up classified 12th after the car got no further than Mangatainoka.
Just over 130 cars started this year’s Targa New Zealand event with over 75% finishing, a testimony to the dedication of the entrants, some going to extraordinary lengths – like towing cars hundreds of kilometres to have them repaired before returning the next day – to reach the finish line.
On Thursday, for instance, former New Zealand NZV8s champion Andy Booth and car owner Paul Halford went off the road and down a bank in Halford’s exotic Maserati Trofeo, yet they were back in the event on Saturday after parts were dispatched from Auckland and the car was repaired overnight. They lost time on Friday while the car was being retrieved but still ended up 14th in the Instra.com Modern category.
In the Metal Man Classic section, meanwhile, members of the Kirk-Burnnand family were back on top after having to play second fiddle last year to Neil Tolich and Cully Patterson in a V8-engined Ford Capri.
With Tolich co-driving a BMW with Mike Sexton this year it was the young gun of the Kirk-Burnnand family, Mark, who – with new co-driver Dave O’Carroll alongside – stepped up to the plate this year, taking the overall win in his BMW M3 from his Auckland-based uncle Barry and Barry’s son Steven in their M3.
Early in the day visiting British rally driver Vincent Bristow and his co-driver Jeff Ashfield swapped fastest stage times with locals Mike Lea and Grant Hanley, the latter pair again impressive in their Nissan SR20-engined BMW E30, but as the day went it was the Mark Kirk-Burnnand/Dave O’Carroll BMW M3 which set the pace, the pair eventually winning four of the seven stages.
Second overall after another typically smooth and unflustered run in their BMW M3 were Barry and Steve Kirk-Burnnand, with Bristow and Ashfield third, Geoff and James Harriman fourth in their Toyota Corolla Levin and Allan Lewis and Colin Cole fifth in their V8-engined Datsun 240Z.
One of the beauties of an event like Targa New Zealand is the diversity of cars entered, long-time competitors Nicholas Cooper and Murray Brown also regularly setting top ten times in the Metal Man Classic category in Cooper’s Chrysler Valiant Charger.
Photo Credit: Ground Sky Photography