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2021 Targa Tasmania: It’s bloody wonderful but not without its dangers

Targa-style  tarmac road events are massive fun, but with ever-lurking danger being part of the high-speed menu. This was emphasised during the 2021 Targa Tasmania with the tragic deaths of three competitors. Now questions are being asked…

Make no mistake, these events are not without their risks. Road grip and conditions change with the weather, and occasional nasty surprises can wait around every corner. Unlike the controlled nature of a permanent racing circuit, have a mishap and emergency vehicles may be half-an-hour and 25 km away.

Some people crochet as a hobby. Others play tennis. Some do frustrating stuff like hitting a small white ball around until it goes into one of 18 tiny holes.

Then there are some who love their cars enough to want to extend them in one of many layers of motorsport. The unwelcome intrusion into our motoring lives of speed cameras and increased police vigilance has removed the pleasure from having expression sessions on public roads, as isolated as many in Australia are.

This brings Targa Tasmania and other similar road rallies into the ambit of enthusiasts. Targa Tassie’s appeal is blatantly obvious to all those with an operational pulse.

Since its inception in 1992, organisers (with state government approval) temporarily close off superb sections of roads around the island and clock participants over those demanding, invariably snaking section of bitumen.

Linking these special timed stages are a succession of pleasant touring stages. The backdrop to the wonderful, challenging roads is the breathtaking scenery. And six days later, after about 2000km of craziness, a winner is declared.

With inspiration drawn from the legendary old European road events such as the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia, the early Targa Tasmania contests were a magnet for some huge names in global motorsport, many who may have retired from professional racing but found they still had to scratch the itch. Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Stirling Moss, Denny Hulme, Greg Crick, Roger Clark, Sandro Munari, Peter Brock, Jim Richards, Dick Johnson, Andrew Miedecke…

But wait; there’s more. Bob Wollek, Gregg Hansford, Jochen Mass, Mick Doohan, Alister McRae, Walter Rohrl, Neal Bates and Barry Sheene.

Over the years, Targa Tasmania has been expanded, with various categories introduced, including the untimed Tour groups specifically for those drivers who want the primal delight of tackling turn after turn, over tricky meandering roads that are otherwise never closed. No roll cages, no helmets, no pace notes.

They’re steering their own machine of choice but without the unrelenting pressure of the stopwatch. The participants can go as hard as their ticker and car allows, but at no speed beyond 130km/h. Unlike the open competition teams, pace notes are expressly forbidden to discourage drivers from getting too bold.

The Porsche Tour is the standout of the non-competitive groups, this year attracting 42 punters who paid $12,000 for the privilege, plus ring-ins from the media who were part of the local launch of the PDK variant of the Cayman GT4. Porsche certainly showed faith in its product.

This year, among the 42 Porsche Tour entrants, were plenty of virgins keen to break free of Covid lockdowns to cut loose in Tasmania.

Many of the 42 were high-value late models including 911 GT2s and GT3s (with a smattering of RS rockets), 718 Cayman GT4s and 911 Turbos. No cotton wool for these fast cars. And they punted them surprisingly hard.

Quite a few do semi-serious stuff like fiddling with tyre pressures when the conditions change.

Sydney’s Mark Croudace, a keen track day regular who shared a 1997 Porsche 911 C2S with wife Cathryn, was a Targa Tas newbie this year. A partner with KPMG and a lover of Euro performance cars (he also owns a Porsche 911 GT3 Clubsport and a BMW M3 CSL) declared unequivocally: “This is a cracker of event. You do a week-long turnkey road trip and the best road in the land, all organised brilliantly by the factory. The way Porsche did it was outstanding. We do nothing. Everything is sorted for us and then we get to drive the wheels off our cars.”

The Croudaces also appreciated the social side of the Tour.

“After the driving is done each day we sit around with other competitors over a nice meal and tell our stories and listen to theirs, reliving the scary moments. I had a few 'oops' moments but managed to pull it back. Managing the dangers is part of driving. The 130km/h limit is sensible.

“The notion of doing 270km/h doesn’t have appeal to us, and it’s way too fast in the wet.”

Another of the brands with their own (smaller) tour group were the Ferrari lads and lasses. They don’t seem near as serious about extending their Italian stallions. Asked to spell out the difference between the two sets of owners, Croudace declared, giggling, “Ferrari owners have better fashion sense!"

“And we don’t have our cars to put in the garage and admire. We drive better and tend to use them in the way the Porsche god intended… like going hard on Targa Tasmania.”

Next year?

“We’ll be back… we thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Bobby di Virgilio (991 911 Carrera) is addicted to the targa events all over Australia. “But Targa Tasmania is easily the best,” he enthused. “The organisation; the great roads…”

The easier paced tour is also a great environment for bringing along partners. Porsche Cup regular Indiran Padayachee shared his 2017 model GT3 RS with wife Saloshini Padayachee. Enjoyment levels were high.

Passionate drivers were to be found among the women too. Manuela Marasco loves her driving and her 2011 Porsche Cayman R and she didn’t give co-driver Timothy O'Neill too much seat time.

Another familiar face was that of former Jaguar boss here in Australia, Danny Rezek, these days a high flier with Deloittes. Danny was using the event for some high-speed bonding with son Keegan in a 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder.

A death on the second last day and a double fatality on the final morning cast a pall over what had been a stunning event.

Inevitably, the tragedies triggered questions about the future of Targa Tasmania, an acknowledged great economic and tourism booster for the state.

Within a day of the rally ending, Motorsport Australia announced it will establish a tribunal to investigate all aspects of the fatal crashes during Targa Tasmania with the intention of providing recommendations to the Motorsport Australia Board. Experienced motorsport executive Garry Connelly will chair the tribunal.

Many individuals have jumped to the defence of Targa Tasmania, some pointing out that risk management is part of competition and also making the point about the dangers inherent in many sports. Dozens of deaths have been reported in our popular football codes in recent times. There are fatalities in water sports, hang gliding, horse and bull riding, boxing, mountain biking, and people have heart attacks on bowling greens.

We don’t need a massive over-reaction from hand wringers. But it could be time for some limits.

Thousands of participants and many more Tasmanian spectators have enjoyed Targa Tasmania for three decades. It’s a standout even with a storied history. Let’s hope it will continue, with appropriate safety inclusions.

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