What a difference a year makes. Over the weekend just passed (July 04/05) tarmac rally specialist Leigh Hopper and co-driver Michael Goudie (Subaru Impreza WRX) dominated this year’s re-scheduled two-day Targa Hawke’s Bay tarmac motor rally event, winning nine out of the ten special stages to cross the finish line in Havelock North on Sunday afternoon with an advantage of over three minutes over second placed local pairing Ivan Knauf and Trevor Corbin, also in a Subaru Impreza WRX.
Local farmers Knauf and Corbin were the only pairing to take a stage win (albeit by just five seconds) off Hopper and Goudie - through the long (29.07km), fast Porangahau run from Wallingford to Wimbledon in the far south-east of the province just before the lunch time service stop at Dannevirke.
But Hopper made up that deficit – and more – with the only sub-15 minute run home through the final 36.7km stage of the day from Tod Rd on the outskirts of Waipawa and on down the roller-coaster run along Middle Road to the ceremonial finishing arch in downtown Havelock North.
Not only were Hopper and co-driver Goudie comfortably (28.7 seconds) quicker than stage runners-up, four-time former New Zealand gravel rally champion Bruce Herbert and his codriver Bevan Parker (Mitsubishi Evo), the winning pair managed to put over three-quarters of a minute (47.5s) on Knauf and Corbin who ended up fourth quickest.
Which, of course was a very different outcome – for Hopper and Goudie anyway - in the three-day Targa Hawke’s Bay event last year. Then, the pair won 10 stages but ended up classified 38th of 41 official finishers thanks to an engine throttle body issue on the first day, then rolled out of the event for good on the final day.
The surprise early demise of two of his usual competitors (David Rogers and co-driver Shane Reynolds to a trip off-road in Rogers’ Mitsubishi Evo 10 and Jason Gill and his co-driver Malcom Read to a mechanical issue with Gill’ new VW Polo R, both in only the second stage) made Hopper and Goudie’s first day this year a little easier.
However, local pair Ivan Knauf and Trevor Corbin were quick to take up the challenge, ending up second behind the flying Hopper and Goudie in five of the ten stages to edge out Bruce Herbert and Bevan Parker for second place at the end of the first day by just over half a minute (0:36.2 seconds), and in the event overall by close to a minute (0.52.0 seconds).
In fourth place - at the end of both days as it turned out - was former Targa NZ winner Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant from Dunedin in the first of the 2WD cars home, a current model Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
Dippie admitted at the lunch break on Saturday that he had been taking it easy in the single-digit temperatures and cold, slippery road surfaces on the morning stages but started to make up time as the winter sun beamed down in the afternoon ones, ending his day just 17 seconds behind the 4WD Mitsubishi of Herbert and Parker.
Dippie and Grant had another up and down run on the second day however, and by the time they got back to Havelock North the advantage Herbert and Parker had over them on Saturday night had increased to 52.2s.
There was very little, meanwhile, in it between the BMW pairings of Aucklanders Jeremy Friar and Katrina Renshaw (BMW 330ti), their Hamilton-based alter-egos Mike Tubbs and Brook Walden (BMW M2), and Christchurch-based interlopers Andrew Oakley and Steve Hutchings (Audi RS5).
Friar and Oakley actually dead-heated for fourth quickest time through the first stage of the day on Sunday morning (the 20.4 km Waimarama one just outside Havelock North) and from that point on the Audi man was either quicker than either or both BMWs or splitting them to end up seventh overall, just over a minute behind fifth placed Friar and Renshaw but just 31.9 seconds shy of Tubbs and Walden in sixth.
Impressing in eighth place meanwhile were the event’s first husband and wife pairing of Troy and Kyla Twomey in their contemporary (BMW-built) MINI Cooper S, while in ninth place was the first father/son combination of Havelock North locals Terry and Frank May in their BMW 330ci.
Keeping it in the family, meanwhile were another husband and wife pair, Chris and Francesca Lewis from Waiheke Island, rounding out the top ten in their Toyota GT86.
Despite issues on the final day which saw him lose time on the penultimate stage, Christchurch man Tony Gosling and his co-driver Sarah Brennan managed to hang on in until the end and claim 11th place in Gosling’s Ford Escort RS1800.
There were some new faces on the top step of the Classic 2WD podium this time, with dynamic Nelson duo Bruce Farley and Glen Warner (BMW E30) rounding up the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 of Mark McCaughan and Lindsay Lyons on the final stage of the event to take Classic 2WD class honours.
Early on in the event it looked like the Mazda RX7 FD3 of Targa original Anton Tallott and co-driver David Connell had Class 2 (for cars 2001cc to 3400cc) wrapped up. However an issue in the final stage of the first day saw them slip back to third.
The battle for Class 1 honours (for classic 2WD cars up to 2000cc) was also anyone’s until late in the piece when early leaders Tim McIvor and co-driver Kerry Sloan (Ford Escort Mk 2) managed to regain the advantage over fellow Escort pair Steven and Shane Blackley
The rescheduled Targa Hawke’s Bay tarmac motor rally was the first major New Zealand motorsport event run here since the COVID-19 Lockdown was lifted
The two-day event was originally scheduled to run over the May 16-17 weekend.
Targa New Zealand events are organised by the Ultimate Rally Group with the support of sponsors AndrewSimms.co.nz, Chicane Racewear, Global Security, NZ Classic Car magazine, Race Brakes, Race4Life Trust, Racetech, TrackIt, Vital and Writeraze.
For more information go to www.targa.co.nz or check out the Targa NZ page on Facebook.