TARMAC: Targa Tasmania - Classic comeback

Classic comeback They won't necessarily be the fastest, but the cars that will bring the most smiles and attract the biggest crowds to this year's Targa Tasmania rally will all have been built prior to 1991. The Classic cars have made a major...

Classic comeback

They won't necessarily be the fastest, but the cars that will bring the most smiles and attract the biggest crowds to this year's Targa Tasmania rally will all have been built prior to 1991.

The Classic cars have made a major comeback in 2007 to the event that began with them as its mainstream in 1992. But in recently years many competitors were drawn to the hope of more media attention and sponsorship in Modern cars. That's now history.

This year the biggest entry this century will contest the Shannons Classic, which has been totally re-shaped and revived with the addition of a new Outright category to eclipse the more modern cars in both numbers and public and media fascination.

And many of the competitors who previously entered the latest Modern cars they could afford are now back in Classic -- not only because the competition is closer than ever, but because they have found that playing Targa with the older cars is also much more fun.

The highest profile Modern 'defectors' this year are Victorians Rex Broadbent and Michael Goedheer, although it didn't start out that way.

History may show that April 6 was a 'good' Friday for Melbourne's Rex Broadbent and Michael Goedheer, but potentially a black day for the 114 other Classic crews that will face them on the 42 stages and five days of this year's Targa Tasmania.

Until then, the smart money was laid evenly in two very different camps: the Aussie muscle cars, led by Hobart's hard-driving Peter O'Keefe in his sinister and spectacular black, 279kW 1977 Torana SL/R 5000 (636) and the plethora of Porsches best-represented by the 911 Carrera crew of Sydney's Bill Pye and Grant Geelan (631).

Broadbent and Goedheer were originally due to run a Victorian-built V8 Daytona Coupe in the drivetravel.com Modern competition. But as the 2007 Targa deadline loomed closer and they were yet to test the still-to-be-completed car, they decided to swap competitions and return to Classic in Broadbent's 1974 Porsche 911 RSR replica.

The pair won Classic in the same Porsche in 2002, but then defected to 'Modern' for the next three years. But in the meantime they further developed the wide-bodied 'Dial-Before-You-Dig' 911 in almost every area, notching up an incredible five outright victories in Classic Adelaide rally in the process.

"The car is much more refined that we last brought it to Targa," said Broadbent, who rates both Pye and O'Keefe as his most serious opposition for the new Classic Outright award. "But Bill and Grant are now a very experienced Targa crew, their car has a similar power-to-weight ratio to ours and Bill drives it very fast. I can't see them having bad luck three years in a row!"

Certainly the Sydney crew are overdue for a better Targa. After finishing second to the 1980 Ford Escort RS of Victoria's Nick Ellis (in the rain) in 2004, Pye and Geelan had a 90-odd second lead on the field the following year in their distinctive green Porsche 911 Carrera 3.0 when they were 'pinged' for being one second too fast on a limited speed zone within sight of victory at Ellendale on Day 5 and copped a victory-crushing penalty.

Then last year their engine's ignition coil expired while they in control to start the very last stage of the event in New Norfolk when they had an even bigger two and a half minute lead.

"It was character-building to say the least," said Pye ruefully. "But it has made us tougher and even more determined this year, except now we've got Rex to deal with as well!"

However both Porsche players acknowledge that if it stays dry they'll be breathing Peter O'Keefe's rubber smoke. After spending more time circuit racing in recent years, the local hero with new navigator Julie Winton-Monet (636) has been lured back to Targa this year by the opportunity to stand on the Classic podium in the new Outright competition that runs parallel to the handicap trophies for cars built before 1991.

With 500HP under his right foot and the proven ability to law all of it on the ground when others are lifting, O'Keefe will be in serious contention as long as the roads remain dry. And if they get wet, they will simply be simply spectacular!

Talking of spectacular instantly brings to mind a number of other much-loved lead-foots. Victoria's Steve Coad happily accepts the title of 'The Entertainer' in his NASCAR- spec 1973 orange Holden Monaro and likes nothing better than shredding its fat rear types and travelling sideways for the Targa crowds. But in past years, his flamboyance saw him perilously short of rear rubber for the final and often-damp and slippery run down Tasmania's West Coast to the Hobart finish.

However the new night stage at Glenorchy near Hobart on Thursday has given Coad and a number of other extroverts the opportunity to let off crowds-pleasing steam without rubber penalties, as they will be allowed to fit alternative rear tyres for the 1.30km blast under lights beside the Derwent River.

"I just can't help myself," beamed Coad. "That's why I built this car -- to have fun!"

He won't be alone in laying rubber and enjoying himself. Melbourne's Len and Gayle Catlin in their Boss 302 Mustang (444) are always at the pointy end of the Classic category and more often sideways than not, while Tasmania's Ray Large and David Dredge in their 1972 Falcon XA GS are far from shrinking violets when it comes to bagging up their boots.

Throw in Torana A9X Hatchbacks of Tasmania's David Cooper and Zara White (606) and Kim Barker and Paul Walker (613) and Mike Moylan and Kimberley Chance's original Group C Bathurst Falcon coupe (576) and you have a serious Holden versus Ford showdown that makes George Foreman and Mike Tyson look like pillow fighters.

But the muscle car that people in both camps will be busting to see throughout Targa will be the monster 1974 XB Falcon coupe of actor Eric Bana and Tony Ramunno.

Bana is back in Targa in 2007 after tasting and loving the event in 1996 and then promising himself to return each year. But the wait has been worth it.

His weapon of choice is the same, but it's what he's done with the tatty white Ford coupe that he bought in 'shitty' condition for $1,100 when he was 15 that drops everyone's jaws when they see and hear it.

Inspired by Steve Coad's Monaro, Bana has virtually turned his fist car into a 600HP V8 Supercar and showpiece, but he's certainly not afraid to plant his right foot or wear some stone chips.

But not everyone in the Shannons Classic is either chasing a podium position or street applause.

Four competitors are back for the 16th time simply because Targa Tasmania has become a very enjoyable part of their life. Jack Waldron and Vin Gregory in their 1955 Fiat Abarth 750, fellow-Victorians Geoff Taylor and Lee Harper and Winston Kim in Porsche 911 Carreras and Adelaide's Reg Kenny driving a 1971 Jaguar XJ6, have taken part in every Targa since the event began in 1992, either as drivers, navigators or in Kenny's case, both.

However Waldron and Gregory hold the unique distinction of doing it in the same car each year.

Then there are competitors like Simon and Amanda Davison, who have now doing their sixth Targa in their diminutive 1955 Austin A30 sedan.

The Davisons, who recently relocated to Tasmania's northwest for business reasons, could have chosen their road-going Subaru WRX or the A30 to run this year, but the elderly Austin that Simon purchased for $400 back in 1976 again got the nod.

"We get more smiles per mile than probably any other competitors," he said, "and we have great fun together every year. That's the special thing about the Shannons Classic category that the latest Porsche or four wheel drive rally car just can't give you!"

-credit: www.targatasmania.com.au

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Series Other rally
Drivers Bill Pye , David Cooper