The most challenging and tempting drivers’ roads in Australia – closed to all other traffic.
And an arsenal of playthings from BMW’s M division fun factory. It’s tantamount to answering a knock on your front door and finding the trim gals from the local gym standing there laughing with takeaway Thai and a couple of slabs.
The 25th anniversary of Targa Tasmania drew the biggest (380-car) entry ever, and a magical mix of modern exotics and today’s peppy hotties, classic and stodgy oldies, rambunctious US and Aussie muscle, and the occasional WTF? oddity.
Targa’s appeal is obvious – the chance to cut loose in the face of the repressive anti-speed, anti-motorist approach of state governments. And the estimated $8m economic gain makes it a no-brainer for the Tasmanian government.
The Targa field comes in two distinct categories – a seriously competitive entry which sensibly requires safety protection from cages to helmets, and a Tour group which isn’t timed, doesn’t require anything other than a credit card, the right machinery, and an attitude based around common sense.
Forget suggestions that it’s an easy drive in bucolic surroundings, though; uneven patchy surfaces, undulations, blind crests, unexpected damp and mossy stretches and unpredictable corner radii are a thought-provoking recipe.
Rule changes for this year meant only standard specification cars (with safety stuff) were eligible for the outright win, split into GT2 (two-wheel drive) and GT4 (four-wheel drive) categories.
Serious goers such as local hotshot Jason White, (Dodge Viper), a five-time winner, twice winner Tony Quinn (Lamborghini Huracan), winner on eight occasions Jim Richards (Porsche Cayman GT4) and Matt Close (Porsche 911 GT3) went at it hard and fast, relying on pace notes to coach and reassure them through blind corners and over 200km/h-plus crests.
It was the 24th Targa Tassie for Richo and navigator Barry Oliver. They loved this one as much as the first and landed yet another podium. White blew the V10 in the Viper on the second last day during a tight tussle with Close, who went on to win GT2 and the event outright, while rally ace Steve Glenney won GT4, snatching the lead on the last day.
The Tour lot, comprising a large Porsche contingent, a few Ferraris and a smaller bunch of eager Fourth Estate types in new BMW M2s entered by a most generous BMW Australia, was largely (though not always) somewhat more sedate, limited to a top speed of 130km/h.
On the tighter stages this was no great hardship. To keep us under a semblance of control on the faster open stages, a Targa-supplied electric GPS tracking device called Rally Safe pinpointed our location and monitored speeds. Infringe more than once or twice and censure followed.
Targa 2016 started in Launceston and covered much of the picturesque island state, touching on Burnie, Stanley, Strahan and finally to Hobart. More than 500 competitive kilometres all told, across 38 stages.
We BMW M2 ‘tourists’ (with an M6, M5, M4, E46 M3 CSL and MINI JCW tossed into our party for variety) also used professional navigators, many from the Australian Rally Championship, and proper pace notes, to get a flavour of the real deal but also because it’s safer even though it’s faster.
A record 97 female navigators were in the passenger seats this year, including the brave Claire Dowling sitting alongside MOTOR. Remember too, Targa is a game that the women can play.
The opening days of Targa Tassie were unusually dry but the knife twist came on the last morning, with drizzle bringing some unwelcome treachery to the bumpy, narrow and technical stages south of Hobart. Sobered by the sad sights of a couple of hi-po Porsches massively devalued after huge impacts with earth banks, the BMW guys and gals opted for a less adventurous approach, especially on the Cygnet and Longley skating rinks.
More than one knowledgeable observer reckoned a well-prepped BMW M2 – stripped of the unnecessary luxury trappings, tweaked a little in the right places and given a suspension tune that would better suit Tasmania’s lumpy, bumpy roller-coaster rural roads – could even take the fight to the big-dollar exotics.
The M2, just released here in six-speed manual and seven-speed twin-clutch DCT forms, and a sub-$100K purchase, is unquestionably one of the best-value performance cars available today.
In a motoring world of complicated technological aids, the M2 is a car for driving purists, people who drool over traditional front-engined, rear-drive coupes with lots of urge, competent chassis and not much in the way of electronic nannies.
Even stock standard, it’s a heck of a weapon with 272kW and a fat 465Nm (jumping to 500Nm on overboost) from the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six. The conventional non-active suspension is firm but works beautifully. Choices of steering weighting, throttle reaction and stability control intrusion are available at the tap of a button. These start with Comfort and then Sport and finally Sport-Plus (which does nice things to the exhaust, turns down the traction control and relaxes the stability control).
All M2s ride on 19-inch wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, which are very effective in all conditions, though noisy on the coarser surfaces.
Traditionalists will no doubt hanker for the manual, which MOTOR tried on three stages of Targa including the gyrating, tight Queenstown blast, loving every blip on the down changes, and every growl from the four exhausts. Why four? Dunno.
But our choice would be the paddle-shifting DCT variant, which is easier to relax with, faster (4.3 vs 4.5sec 0-100km/h) and even a wee bit more fuel efficient (not that we much care). The demanding Hellyer Gorge stage, with its constant gear changing, was not so hellish nor energetic when swapping cogs using a finger on each hand.
We were helped, of course, by a terrifically responsive front end and brilliant steering, with all the communicative road feel a keen driver demands and redolent of the days before electric assistance came along.
The M2 is such a comfortable, almost restful, jigger too. The power-adjustable sports buckets are supportive, with the seat wings cranking in to tightly hug the torso.
Targa Tasmania and the new BMW M2 make a tantalising combo for spirited drivers. Expect to see more than a few of them among the tarmac rally series entry in the coming months.
Targa Tas, a history
The brainchild of Tasmanian businessman John Large and motoring journalist Max Stahl, Targa Tasmania initially began as a way for enthusiasts to enjoy their classic cars on closed roads. While that goal remains, the competitive element meant it didn’t take long for it to become a serious road race – in 1995 Neal Bates and Coral Taylor won in a WRC-spec Toyota Celica GT-Four!
The event’s length, six days for 2016’s 25th Anniversary, makes it an incredibly tough test of man and machine. The challenge has lured some of the world’s finest drivers, including Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Sandro Munari, Jochen Mass, Walter Rohrl, Peter Brock, and of course eight-time winner Jim Richards.
Bad luck for champ
The tall chap on the left is Jason White. Driving a highly modified Lamborghini Gallardo, White won Targa Tasmania in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015, but with the new regs rendering the Lambo ineligible for outright honours, the speedy Tassie swapped Italian exotica for US muscle, campaigning a Dodge Viper ACR Extreme.
It proved a potent combination, White swapping fastest stage times with Matt Close in a Porsche 991 911 GT3, just 15sec separating the two after 27 stages, before the Viper’s V10 blew, handing Close the outright win.
But the most curious story was that of past winner Steve Glenney who started the event in the passenger seat, taking the wheel of the Subaru WRX STI on Day Two when the driver complained of blurry vision. He then dominated the GT4 class to win by 3min16sec from Tony Quinn in a Lambo Huracan.