The 2019 Targa Tasmania road rally has delivered a number of surprise results and a first-time winner.
Veteran racer Paul Stokell finally won his first Targa Tasmania outright – also earning the first win for Lotus – while rally driver Brendan Reeves delivered an impressive debut result for the Hyundai i30N hot hatch, claiming 6th in the GT2 class and 15th outright ahead of more fancied machinery.
Stokell won the 28th running of the event with co-driver Kate Catford after establishing a convincing lead on Day Four after the early leaders suffered setbacks.
The Lotus Exige 350 of Steve Glenney and Dennis Sims crashed out of first place on the second-last stage of Day Three.
The Porsche GT3 RS shared by Matt Close and Cameron Reeves was elevated to first place but their pace slowed after experiencing electrical problems.
By the end of Day Four, Stokell had taken the lead and was never headed in an event marred by intermittent heavy rain and icy roads that caught out many drivers.
The 2019 event took in 33 special stages and a total distance of more than 2000km from Launceston in the north, Strahan in the west, to the finish in Hobart in the south.
“I’ve always called Targa Tasmania the hardest event I’ve ever done,” said Stokell, a former circuit racer and three times Australian Driver’s Champion.
“The conditions we had – we went from icy roads that were so slippery that you could hardly stay on them to high grip, high speed stuff and you’ve got to adapt pretty quickly. To win a circuit racing championship you can never take it away but this means a lot.”
Meanwhile, in its Targa Tasmania debut the Hyundai i30N driven by Brendan Reeves and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino caused a major upset by finishing sixth in the GT2 class ahead of faster and more expensive sports cars including a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Dodge Viper, Porsche GT3 RS, Porsche Cayman GT4, Audi TT RS, and BMW M2, to name a few.
The Hyundai i30N finished just behind two pairs of Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evolution turbo all-wheel-drive sedans in the outright class – and was the first front-drive car in any category across the line, finishing in 15th outright. The next fastest front-drive car was a Renault Megane RS in 49th place.
Reeves said he used the Hyundai i30N’s unique traction control, stability control, and differential settings – which can be adjusted manually by the driver – to assist in the slippery conditions.
“For the wet stages I was also driving with the (stability control) in Sport mode which was really good, when the rear was sliding around in the slow corners the (stability control) was catching it, giving me more confidence to push on in the tricky conditions,” Reeves said.
“It was the first time I’d driven the i30 N properly in anger in the wet and we found quite a bit more pace compared with everyone else in the GT2 class. The cars we’re up against are so fast, so it was good to capitalise in the wet, and rein them in a bit.”
Reeves’ i30 N tarmac rally car is essentially in showroom condition except for the addition of mandatory safety features such as racing seats, harnesses, a roll-cage and road-legal "semi-slick" tyres.
The 202kW turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder engine was unmodified and the factory suspension hardware remained unchanged.
Mid-way through the event the Hyundai team reverted to standard suspension bushes and standard brake discs after the performance items that were initially fitted were deemed less suitable than the standard equipment.
In the end, modifications included a racing exhaust and upgraded brake pads with standard calipers, and a set of optional Hyundai accessory O.Z. Hyper GT wheels that saved approximately 2kg per wheel.
Reeves, who was also a part of the i30N local development team, is a veteran of the sport, having made his Targa debut over a decade ago.
“We started the event knowing that we’re not going to be the quickest on day one, but that if we stay on the road, by Day Six we’ll be where we need to be, and being an endurance event that’s the way you’ve gotta look at it,” said Reeves.
“We sort of knew what to expect from the car because we’ve driven it in the tarmac rally sprints, so I had high expectations for it. The chassis is really well balanced and having the adjustable suspension is a big help. I knew how good a package it is, which is why we pushed so hard to bring it to Targa.”
The 2019 result adds to Brendan Reeves’ previous Targa Tasmania highlights in a turbo front-drive Mazda3 MPS, in which he finished fourth outright in 2011 and ninth outright in 2010 to win the now discontinued “showroom” class.