The Targa Rally returns to the roads of Wairarapa this week for the first time in several years, and Martinborough’s John Thomson hopes to be to the fore in his backyard.
Thomson, 68, and co-driver, daughter Sarah, 31, are racing a BMW 135i in the highly competitive modern production two-wheel drive class, and the highly competitive former top sailor is aiming to finish near the top of the field, although he believes this year’s lineup is the toughest for several years.
“If we’re in the top third, we’re pretty happy, but with a few top Australians coming over, it will be a very competitive field, and we’ll be up against GT Porsches and other fast cars,” said Thomson, who added there is a lot more to achieving a high placing than just going fast.
“You do always have to keep something in reserve because you’re in the car for 12 hours a day for five days, and if you hit a tree or power pole, it’s over.
“You don’t push quite as hard, and we are becoming more competitive as we learn the Targa techniques.
“It’s a completely different thing to circuit racing, and it’s a different set of skills”
Facing tough competition, though, is nothing new for Thomson, who was a top-class yachtsman for over three decades, having won the Paper Tiger national title seven times and represented New Zealand overseas in the Tornado class in the 1980s. He also competes regularly in circuit racing in his BMW.
The Targa starts this morning with a special stage at Hampton Downs raceway in north Waikato before heading south through Rotorua, Taupo, and Palmerston North and finishing in Wairarapa on Saturday.
The final day will see drivers tackle two special stages in northern Wairarapa, east of Pahiatua and Pongaroa, before a challenging stage from Kaiparoro across Dreyers Rock Road and finishing at the southern end of Whangaehu Valley Road.
The penultimate stage will run from Longbush to Hinakura Road, and the final stage will take in Ponatahi Road. and finishing at Kokotau.
Thomson said the Targa organisation is a well-oiled machine, and there is attention to the smallest detail, such as all roadside gates being taped shut and side roads manned during the special stages.
He added that the speeds are tightly controlled, and there’s a maximum speed of 200kmh in special stages and if drivers exceed that, they’re hit with penalties, fines and even disqualification.