When James Owen’s wife agreed to co-drive for her husband on the Targa Florio rally in Sicily in 2006, little did she know that five years later he’d be shipping his car to Australia for what friends described as “a proper Targa road race”.

Owen, 44, from Surrey in the United Kingdom, will team up with fellow Brit Jason Williams, 41, in a Triumph TR5 for the 20th anniversary running of Targa Tasmania, to be held from April 5 to 10.

The 2006 Giro di Sicilia – Targa Florio – Centenary Rally was Owen’s first rallying experience, but it soon whet his appetite for more and has resulted in a well planned, and expensive, trip down under.

“Despite neither my wife or I having rallied before, and her finding out that she was pregnant the night before we flew out to Italy, we actually placed fifth overall and second in class, helped hugely by the fact that the competitive element of that event was –shall we say – not very serious,” Owen said.

“It was during that event, though, that we befriended a group of spectating Aussies, including a certain well-known Tasmanian, Scotty Taylor, who told me about a ‘proper’ Targa road race that ran in Tasmania.

“I’ve spent five years dreaming about Targa Tasmania and 18 months actively planning on competing.”

A lifelong racing fan, Owen’s father raced at a clubman level in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he began racing himself.

“I’ve only ever really been interested in the Historic Roadsports category, racing a Triumph TR5 and, more recently, a 1960 Elva 200 rear-engined Formula Junior.”

With some good results over the past few years, Owen has shown he has pretty of driving talent behind the wheel on the circuit, but it’s the challenge of Targa Tasmania that has really quickened his heart rate.

“It’s one of the world’s last proper road races. A serious event, with serious competition, but we hope to find it social and friendly at the same time,” he says.

“My co-driver, Jason, and I are novices, not just in this specific event, but also in this type of motorsport, as we are both circuit racers – we are merely aiming to keep the car out of the scenery, and get it to the finish.

“But along the way we’ll hopefully pick up some nice photos, a t-shirt or two, some great memories and some new friends to go with the massive overdraft!”

Despite being from the UK, Owen is hoping for dry and sunny weather so that he can enjoy the “splendid views as we rush by” on Tasmania’s twisting roads. Whether that’s the case, particular on the run down the west coast to Strahan and Queenstown, remains to be seen.

The Triumph that the Brits will drive was built in 1968 as a TR250 for the US market, although it’s early history is unknown. It was rebuilt in the late 1980s in the specification of a TR5 and was raced in the Historic Roadsports Championship in the early 1990s.

“The car then fell into disuse whilst the owner lived abroad and it was purchased by my brother in 1999,” Owen recalls.

“He did two or three hillclimbs with it, and then sold it to me in 2003. Since them I’ve raced it heavily.

“Specification wise, it’s a very standard, because only the standard car was homologated for competition in period, and this car now has an FIA Historic Technical Passport (HTP).

“The car has all modern safety requirements such as a full roll cage, and the engine has been bored out to +40thou and tuned, but only to a ‘fast-road’ specification. It now puts out around 180bhp.”

Owen’s wife may well have been part of the spark that ignited her husband’s passion for classic rallying, but she won’t be in Tasmania for the event.

“I’m very lucky to have the support of my wife and family in my motorsport activities, but I’ve given them time off for good behaviour and will leave them to enjoy themselves with friends in New Zealand,” he says.

He refuses to work out what his entry in Targa Tasmania will cost him, admitting that it is a seriously expensive adventure that it unlikely to be repeated, although he certainly won’t to let that dampen his enthusiasm.

“If I can’t get myself up for this event day after day then I’d be horrified. I’ve been dreaming about it for five years”

Owen has a number of UK friends who are extremely interested in following his lead and competing in Targa Tasmania in the future. They’ll be eagerly awaiting news on his progress, and hopefully putting their own Targa plans into motion.

Support for his Targa entry has come from XL Specialty Insurance at Lloyds, while Oamps Insurance Brokers have provided assistance in kind. He’s also indebted to the Targa Tasmania staff.

“Whilst they are not exactly sponsors in the financial sense, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the huge amount of help from Helen Coad in the Octagon office (who I’ve badgered with inane questions for 18 months) and also from regular Targa competitor David Ogg, who has helped me understand the logistics, ethos and workings of the event, and pulled together a lot of details for me.”

With the planning done and the car on its way to Australia, all that’s left is for Owen to board the flight to Hobart and try to keep the butterflies in abeyance as he begins the highlight of his motorsport life.

“I can’t wait,” he beams.

The 20th anniversary running of Targa Tasmania is a cavalcade of motoring history and starts on Tuesday, April 5.

The event is primarily based in Launceston, while also spending one night in the west coast town of Strahan, before finishing in the state’s capital, Hobart, on Sunday, April 10.

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