Sports cars are designed to be driven hard. Foot to the floor, tyres gripping, the engine singing, and you don’t even glance at the speedometer. Try doing that on a public road, though, and say goodbye to your car and licence. But what if you could do all that legally? The Targa Australia rally series is just that.
CarAdvice was invited to the Porsche Targa High Country Tour this year to drive the 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS around Mount Buller, Mansfield, and Eildon over three days. Entrants were treated to four-star accommodation at Mount Buller, dining with a view, and many other inclusions, along with great company.
While the tour has posted speed limits, and the stages are not timed, you can still take racing lines through twisty roads at speed.
As a first for this year, Porsche ran a track day at Winton Motor Raceway on the first day to get drivers familiar with their cars. It was perhaps more catered to those who haven’t driven their car in anger before, and it was also handy for us, as the only time we spent in the Cayman was doing 110km/h on the freeway that morning.
The 30 or so cars were split into four groups based on their driving experience or the power of their cars. Then followed a Targa drivers' briefing, where drivers received two 15-minute track sessions and one session for the navigator.
Each day consisted of around eight stages at different lengths. The Porsche tour was privileged to lead each stage before the competition cars made their way through, keeping the roads clear of gravel and dirt. The shortest stage was around 7km and the longest 48km. We received some ‘breathers’ in between stages as we had to travel to the next stage on open public roads, which sometimes was a 60km trip. There weren’t many opportunities for toilet breaks, so while waiting for the start of each stage, most guys went to see a man about a dog.
Helmets were not needed for the tour, only long-sleeve shirt and enclosed shoes, so we were quite comfortable. Cars had to be scrutineered by CAMS, and both driver and navigator were breath-tested at the start of each day. If you blew over 0.00, no driving or navigating for you.
Pace notes were not allowed, so the navigator was given a Targa tour book, which showed instructions for the stages. However, not every corner was marked, so we made use of the inbuilt satellite navigation. The Rally Safe unit was attached to the left side of the windscreen, which tracked speed and your location. If it picked up a car was off-track or had slowed or stopped, it would alert other cars around that area by flashing a message and warning sound.
Locals welcomed the event, waving from the side of the road or in cars passing by. Some even made signs to show their support. For a small town such as Mansfield, no doubt Targa would bring in a bit of money, and it’s a credit to all councils involved for continuing to back the event.
Our Cayman was the perfect car for Targa. Not only did we have an impressive 425L of luggage space to fit our bags and camera gear in, but it was comfortable on the 2.5-hour drive on the freeway to Winton. It did take some time to get the hang of the cruise control, and there was a fair bit of tyre roar, but it is a sports car after all. When Sport driving mode was engaged, it opened up the exhaust sound and a crackle and burble could be heard when backing off the throttle.
The 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 269kW of power, with a sprint to 100km/h taking 4.3 seconds with the PDK transmission. Sure, it will never have the scream of a GT3 at 9000rpm, but the Cayman was happy revving to 7000rpm.
There was the option of using shift paddles for the PDK transmission, but I didn’t use them. There were other drivers who did the same, as there was already plenty enough to think about. The PDK did the job, but there were times it did take longer than I anticipated to change down a gear while steering out of a corner.
The car had so much confidence handling corners and apexes. Being mid-engined, it was balanced perfectly. Once the tyres warmed up, I knew exactly how it was going to behave, as the steering was direct, and there was an incredible amount of grip once the road was clear of morning dew.
On open stretches of stages, it was hard to keep to 130km/h, so the speed limiter was set at 120km/h. It was handy, but with the amount of noise in the cabin, along with navigation instructions, and at times gravel flicking up under the wheel arches, not to mention engine noise, the warning sound was barely audible.
The biggest highlight of the weekend was the welcoming company of the Porsche owners. I’m connected through the classic Porsche community, but to be able to mingle with the modern Porsche community, it proved to me that no matter who owns what Porsche, the passion remains the same. Some have a history with the brand, some have only ever owned new Porsches, and some also had a classic 911 parked in the garage at home. You can see their enthusiasm in the way they talk about their cars.
Most teams were husband and wife, and one couple started Targa to get over motion sickness! There were also friends, such as Debbie and James, who were experiencing Targa for the first time and shared the driving and navigating. They expressed their interest in Targa Tasmania as they had “bucketloads of fun” in this event.
For anyone who wants to enjoy Targa and not take it too seriously, the tour is perfect. It’s a chance to meet like-minded people, and drive the car the way it was designed while doing it with a giant grin on your face.
It’s an event that all car enthusiasts should experience.