Though it won't be in his latest 2012 model Nissan GT-R35, Targa 'King' Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett will start this weekend's Targa Rotorua tarmac motor rally. However last year's winner, Glenn Inkster and his co-driver Spencer Winn, have run out of time to get their own new car ready.
For the past two years Inkster and Winn have been the only pair to consistently challenge five-time Targa New Zealand and 2009 Targa Rotorua winner Quinn's dominance of the the various Targa events in this country.
But 34-year-old former gravel rally front-runner Inkster said this morning that there were simply not enough hours left before tomorrow morning's event start to complete work on his new Ecolight Mitsubishi Evo8.
"It was close, but at the end of the day not close enough," he said."If we had another week, we'd definitely be there, another day probably not."
Coincidentally, Tony Quinn - the Queensland-based Scot who won the Rotorua event with Sue O'Neill co-driving in 2009 and who has now won the main Targa New Zealand event four years in a row - also ran out of time to get his new car, a Darrell Lea-backed 2012 model Nissan GT-R35, ready in time for this weekend's event.
However he has been able to borrow a car, friend and Targa event sponsor Clark Proctor's Metalman Nissan GT-R35.
"We could have flown it (the new car) over but the cost was going to be prohibitive,"Quinn said earlier this week."Fortunately for us Clark had a prior commitment this weekend and couldn't do the event himself, so his car was available."
This year's event starts just before midday tomorrow (Friday) and finishes back in Rotorua on Sunday afternoon. The 18-stage, 353km event has attracted over 70 entries, close to 60 across the three competitive classes, Instra.com 4WD, Instra.com Modern 2WD and Metalman Classic 2WD, and a further 15 in the non-competitive Targa Tour which runs concurrently.
With Inkster and Winn out, competition for Quinn and Tillett at the front of the field is expected to come from 2011 winners Leigh Hopper and Simon Kirkpatrick from Orewa in Hopper's Subaru Impreza WRX, the Dodson Motorpsort Nissan GT-R35 of Auckland pair Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit and the Citywide Cars' Mitsubishi Evo9 of the consistent Jason Gill and new co-driver, former rally champ Mark Tapper.
It will also be interesting to see how well gravel event veteran Brian Green and his co-driver Fleur Pedersen go on tarmac in their Brian Green Properties-backed Mitsubishi Evo10.
With the field split into three classes the Instra.com Modern 2WD (two-wheel-drive) category is the hardest to call, with Richard Krogh and Glenn Sharratt in a Porsche 911 and Richard Scoular and Mike Patching an Mazda RX7 the obvious contenders, and Australians Robert Darrington and David Abetz in their E36 BMW M3 the dark horse combination in Darrington's BMW E46 M3.
Finding a favourite in Metalman Classic 2WD is a little easier - the odds on one or other member of the extended Kirk-Burnnand family winning again being particularly good.
After breaking a front crossmember then a rear shock absorber in the main Targa New Zealand event late last year, Wellingtonian Mark Kirk-Burnnand has stripped and re-built his Autostop-backed BMW E30 M3 and he and his co-driving father Chris start this weekend's event joint class favourite with Mark's Auckland-based cousin Steven and his father Barry Kirk-Burnnand in their similar BMW E30 M3.
Barry drove his car to class victory in the main Targa NZ event last year with son Steven in the co-driver's seat, but after swapping sides at the recent Targa Rallysprint event at Waiuku, and Steven proving faster, Barry has decided that this time he will be the co-driver and Steven can take over the steering duties.
With last year's event class winners Stuart Rose and Gary Renall not returning with their unique V8-engined Toyota Hilux ute this year, competition for the two Kirk-Burnnand pairings could well come from husband and wife Anthony and Joanne Butler in their Holden HQ-based Cheetah convertible.
"Realistically," Mark Kirk-Burnnand said earlier this week, "there are probably five or six cars that could win stages this weekend, but because we had an awesome battle with Anthony and Joanne at Waiuku we've got a good idea of just how quick their car is."
This year's Targa Rotorua is being run a month earlier than in previous years as part of a re-jig of Targa event dates. Event HQ is at the Novotel Rotorua on Tutanekai Street with parc ferme (where competing vehicles are parked before and after each day's stages) on the Village Green opposite the hotel.
The field is set to leave the Village Green tomorrow (Friday) at 11.40am and return by 3.40pm while on Saturday and Sunday competitors will leave the Village Green between 7 and 8am and be back each afternoon just before 5pm.
Kids In Cars is the Targa organization's new charity partner and this weekend's Targa Rotorua event has been organized and will be run with the support of sponsors Britz, NZ Classic Car magazine, Ecolight, Federal motorsport tyres, Instra Corporation, Metalman, Mobil1, TeamTalk, Trackit, VTNZ and Woolrest Biomag.
More information including an entry list and stage maps is available in the latest issue of New Zealand Classic Car magazine.
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