In beautiful sunny conditions this morning, 54 rally cars competing in the 16th Make Smoking History Targa West rally drove high octane excitement into Forrest Place in the City of Perth for the tarmac rally’s Ceremonial Start.
In his first official public appearance, new City of Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zemplias wished competitors and crews a safe and successful event before flagging off the first cars.
Competitors then headed to Whiteman Park to tackle four stages, racing against the clock, then two stages at Wanneroo Raceway and then took to the streets of Ellenbrook for the day’s last two stages, thrilling over 7,000 spectators.
Section 1 of Leg 1 today consisted of eight stages, 26.34 competitive kilometres and a total distance of 178 kilometres. Stage 1 was used as a warm up and not timed.
There were six retirements after Day 1 with competitors experiencing a range of issues from mechanicals, blown head gaskets, broken drive shaft, getting bogged in sand and, in the case of Mark Cates, a broken strut when his 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 RS hit a kerb on the first stage at Ellenbrook. Cates said that he was mostly uninjured, the only thing that hurt is his back pocket. Some competitors may restart the rally if they can fix their issues overnight.
Ending the first day on top 22 seconds ahead was Mark Greenham and Steph Esterbauer in their 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Greenham / Esterbauer blitzed the two stages at Wanneroo Raceway, winning by 11 seconds and 7 seconds, the new engine, his 4WD car and driving style clearly suited to the stage. The duo also finished fastest in the Ellenbrook street stages.
“There were lots of first and second gear corners and the four-wheel drive really punches the gear hard and handles them so well,” said Greenham of High Wycombe.
Peter Rullo and Jimmy Marquet in their 2019 SSC Lotus Exige Targa GT bolted from the get-go, winning the first two stages, but with a car suited to long flowing roads, lost time on the tight, twisty stages at Wanneroo Raceway.
Rullo / Marquet finished the day in second place. Rounding out the top three a further 22 seconds behind was husband and wife Bill and Glenys Stagoll in their 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver showed promise in their leased 2004 Porsche 996 Turbo and finished the day in fourth, a good effort considering that the first time O’Dowd drove the car was on route to the Ceremonial Start.
Will White and Matt Thompson blew their engine the week before Targa West, and the crew spent many a late night to fix it in time. Despite finishing equal fastest on the first Ellenbrook stage, fuel regulator issues plagued them today and it looks like they’ll be out of contention.
In the Competition Classic (pre 1986), the pace was set early by Simon Gunson with new rookie co-driver this year Peter Morley in his 1971 Ford Capri Perana taking a clean sweep to win all stages, finishing 33 seconds ahead of Tim Wolfe and Scott Beckwith in a 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RS.
Co-driver Morley said that he was almost losing his voice.
“I don’t need to shout at Simon because we have comms, but I keep yelling at him!” Morley quipped.
Gunson reported that he made a couple of small driving errors, but all in all, it had been a good, trouble free day.
Finishing the day in third place 35 seconds behind Wolfe / Beckwith was Bruce Lake and Peter Hall in their London-to-Sydney Marathon car, a 1971 Datsun 240Z.
Targa 165 and Targa 130
In the Targa 165 category, drivers are restricted to 165 kilometres per hour. Rookies Ben Pang and co-drive Brandon Chin finished with a healthy lead of 2:44 minutes in their 1999 Honda Civic ahead of Nick Rahimtulla and Lisa White in their 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV 105.
The Targa 130 category restricts drivers to 130 kilometres per hour. It was the electric Telsa 3 Performance+ piloted by husband and wife duo Jurgen and Helen Lunssman that finished the day fastest, 1:16 minutes ahead of David and Anna Hodges in their 2013 Holden VF SSV.
Jurgen Lunssman said it was important to build a lead.
“In the electric car, obviously we need time to charge the car, so it’s important we build up a lead now to off set the longer days ahead. Other than that, we’re a Swiss team now, running like clockwork,” said Lunssman.
Tomorrow, Leg 1 continues and Targa West heads to Mundaring and Kalamunda, which includes the famous Zig Zag stage, ahead of the Show and Shine in Northbridge tomorrow night from 6pm.
Competitors start at 30-second intervals, with the winner being the fastest over all 36 stages, a total of 268 competitive kilometres, across four days.