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Win or lose, current Targa New Zealand 'King' Tony Quinn knows where his familiar black and yellow VIP Petfoods-liveried Nissan GT-R35 is going after this year's Targa New Zealand tarmac rally.
 
"My sole goal this year," says four-time winner Quinn, "is to get one more victory under the belt because after this year's event I'm going to retire the car and put it in my new museum."
 
Quinn won the annual Targa New Zealand event for the first time back in 2003 behind the wheel of a Porsche 996 Turbo co-driver by Keith Wenn. And for the past three years he and new co-driver Naomi Tillett have been the combination to beat in the Nissan GT-R35.
 
The museum he is talking about is currently under construction at the new Highlands Motorsport Park near Cromwell.
 
Plans for a small motorsport circuit and associated business park there were originally floated by a group of local motorsport enthusiasts. They got the project up and running and Quinn - who heads the family-owned VIP Petfoods business across the Tasman, and who has a holiday home near Queenstown - bought it late last year.
 
Since then he and son and fellow racer Klark have added their own distinctive stamp, extending the main circuit out to 4.5kms and including apartments, a museum and a restaurant/cafe in the mix.
 
Quinn sees the museum as one of the highlights of the development, with a contemporary - rather than vintage/veteran - focus and a regularly changing roster of exhibits, including - obviously - his Targa New Zealand-winning Nissan GT-R35!
 
With three wins in three years here plus wins in Targa Tasmania in 2009 and 2011 Quinn and Tillett are still absolutely at the top of their game. That doesn't mean win number four at the end of the month is a foregone conclusion however.
 
Since shifting his focus from gravel to tarmac Aucklander Glenn Inkster and his co-driver Spencer Winn have twice finished second to Quinn and Tillett in the five-day Targa NZ event and this year the pair have won both two-day Targa Bambina and Targa Rotorua events outright.
 
Inkster has also recently added circuit racing to his repertoire and believes that the skills he has picked up there will help him go even quicker in Targa NZ this year.
 
"You go into so much fine detail to get speed out of a circuit car and I have found that that definitely translates to the Targa car. I'm also a lot better under brakes now because on a circuit you have to pay so much attention to braking, something which is not quite so critical on gravel."
 
Quinn's sophisticated six-cylinder Nissan still produces more power than Inkster's smaller, simpler four-cylinder Ecolight-backed Mitsubishi Evo 6. But the Nissan is also heavier and less nimble.
 
There's real respect between the two crews, but having already won Targa Bambina and Targa Rotorua this year Inkster is obviously keen to complete the trifecta.
 
"When we first did Targa NZ in 2010 we finished second but we weren't even close to Tony, he blew us away by minutes," says Inkster. " Last year though we basically went head-to-head the whole week but he was more consistent. So this year I definitely feel we can be challenging for the lead from the start."
 
That's how Wellingtonian Mark Kirk-Burnnand feels as well. He and his co-driving father Chris are again favourites to win the Metalman Classic category in their Autostop-backed BMW M3.
 
With Chris's Auckland-based brother Barry and his son Stephen, the Kirk-Burnnands are Targa event stalwarts and last year (with family friend Dave O'Carroll co-driving for Mark) they finished first and second respectively in the Metalman Classic category.
 
"It might sound boring but consistency is the key in an event like Targa," says Mark. "We have the odd moment, but one of the things that Tony (Quinn) says is that you've got to drive within yourself if you want to do well and that's what I always try and do."
 
From humble beginnings 18 years ago Targa New Zealand is now one of New Zealand's biggest and most popular multi-day motorsport events with this year's route taking the 100+ pairings from Auckland on Tuesday October 23 to  Havelock North in Hawke's Bay on Saturday October 27 with overnight stops in New Plymouth, Taupo, Palmerston North and Havelock North.
 
In-between are 1348.2 kilometers of touring stage and 878.3 km of competition ones with stage length varying from the marathon 47.53 km Kawhia Harbour between Oparau and Marakopa on Day 1 to the short and sweet 8.32 km Tuki Tuki east of Havelock North on the final day.
 
Back by popular demand are the Inglewood Jumps and Whangamomona stages in Taranaki on the second day and already eagerly anticipated are the two new Gentle Annie stages between the Rangitikei and Hawke's Bay on the fourth.
 
The 2012 Targa New Zealand tarmac rally is brought to you with the support of sponsors APN, Britz, NZ Classic Car magazine, Federal motorsport tyres, Instra Corporation, Meguiars, Metalman, Mobil1, TeamTalk, TrackIt, VTNZ, and the Hastings District Council.
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