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There's a tempting mix of stages old and new for this year's five-day Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally which starts in Auckland on Tuesday October 23 and finishes in Havelock North on Saturday October 27.
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.
From humble beginnings 19 years ago Targa New Zealand is now one of New Zealand's biggest and most popular multi-day motorsport events attracting entries - this year the number looks set to again top the 100 mark - from as far afield as the UK and the US as well as from here (the majority) and Australia.
For several years the event started in Auckland and ended in Wellington, but last year it headed north to Whangarei and environs before returning south to eventually end in Havelock North.
This year it again starts in Auckland and ends in Havelock North but the route in-between is completely different - yearly changes one of the reasons, says Targa New Zealand Event Director Peter Martin, for its on-going popularity.
"The key is keeping things fresh. Obviously there will always be old favourites, like the Inglewood Jumps stage in Taranaki and the Kaokaoroa Valley in the Hawke's Bay but the secret is to not use them every year."
In all this year's event will feature 33 special stages for a total of 878.3 competition and 1348.2 touring kilometres. Stage length varies 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.
Two stages that everyone involved in the event is looking forward to are Gentle Annie West and Gentle Annie East on Friday. Up until recently the infamous Gentle Annie road from north of Taihape on the western side of the Ruahine Ranges to Waiwhare in the east was gravel, but since it has been sealed it now presents itself as the perfect new challenge for the Targa field.
Because of the road's length it has been split into two 39km stages with a short transport stage in between.
Though entries have yet to close just on 60 have so far signed up for the main event with an extra 15 for the two-day Targa Hawke's Bay 'event-within-an-event' on the Friday and Saturday, and 28 for the concurrent (non-competitive) Targa Tour.
Early favourites are Australians Tony Quinn (pictured) and co-driver Naomi Tillett (Nissan GT-R35) who this year will be gunning for their fourth win in as many years with competition expected to come from Mitsubishi Evo 6 pair Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn who finished runner-up to Quinn and Tillett last year, and the Nissan GT-R35 of event regulars Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit.
There will also be interest in the progress of Florida, USA-based expat Gavin Riches and wife Aimee in his return to the event in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
The battle for supremacy in the Metalman Classic 2WD category, meanwhile, looks like it will again be a all-family affair with Wellington-based Mark and his co-driving father Chris Kirk-Burnnand sharing joint favourite status with Chris's Auckland-based brother Barry Kirk-Burnnand and his co-driver son Steven in near identical BMW M3s.
Cure Kids is again the official charity of the event and if this year's target of $50,000 is reached Targa New Zealand events will have raised well over $500,000 for the charity since 2002.
The 2012 Targa New Zealand tarmac rally is brought to you with the support of sponsors Allied Petroleum, 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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