TARGA Tasmania – the last 15 years

There has been significant evolution in the fabric of TARGA Tasmania over the last 15 years starting with sweeping changes to the class structure.

Among a myriad of changes in 2007 were the introduction of the Rookie Rallye for Classic and Modern classes.

Back then the Classic title was taken out by the hugely popular Adrian Morrisby (who sadly passed away last year) while the Modern Rookie title was won by five-times Australian Rally Champion Ross Dunkerton.

The face of TARGA was undergoing sweeping changes in the composition of the categories and the 2007 event would also thrust the international spotlight on Tasmania through unprecedented exposure.

Acclaimed Australian actor and motoring devotee Eric Bana entered 2007 in the Classic section with his ride being the 1974 Ford Coupe he had owned since he was 15.

Bana misjudged a left-hand corner on the Cethana stage in Tasmania’s north-west with the exquisitely prepared two-door suffering steering and suspension damage as well as considerable panel damage.

Bana and his co-driver Tony Ramunno escaped unhurt in what was a nasty shunt into trees.

The 2007 TARGA Tasmania campaign was the focus of the brilliant documentary, Love The Beast, directed by Bana which was released in 2009.

While a touch of Hollywood lifted TARGA to new highs, the competition on track was also reaching unprecedented levels.

A ninth outright win for Richards and Oliver was denied in 2008 when the rapid Steve Glenney and top co-driver Bernie Webb snared victory in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX RS, which to date remains the only outright triumph for the three-diamond badge.

There was to be another crew to experience the exultation of a first-time TARGA victory with the Queensland entrepreneur Tony Quinn lifting the prize in 2009 with Naomi Tillett in a Nissan GT-R.

In 2010, Jason and John White would continue to gather momentum on the honor board by spearing to their second outright win and their first time in a Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo Stradale.

Quinn and Tillett repeated their 2009 success in 2011 as the TARGA story continued to showcase incredible battles in a mouth-watering array of machines.

With now 20 years in the record books, the 2012 TARGA Tasmania was bursting with 220 entries which saw huge changes to the route.

Just 40 percent of the course carried over from the previous year, offering fresh mental and physical challenges.

Officials moved to test entrants by plotting a course which totalled more than 600km of gruelling competitive stages, the longest and most demanding in the event’s history.

Devonport driver Jason White and his uncle John White were searching for a third outright victory. The Whites campaigned a Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo Stradale.

Defending champions Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillett would commandeer a new Nissan GT-R with more power and beefed up suspension.

A day before the competition started the Whites suffered an engine failure in the Gallardo during a ride day for punters.

Returning to Devonport, a replacement engine was installed at the 11th hour and the Whites were back in action.

By the end of the third day the Whites had scampered to a lead of just under two minutes ahead of Quinn and Tillett.

The Lamborghini then developed an electrical problem but it was soon sorted and the Whites charged on, eventually winning by 2min27secs over Quinn and Tillett.

The Whites stormed to victory in 2013, their fourth outright title.

The following year saw a change at the top with Jamie Vandenberg and Dennis Sims guiding their Nissan GT-R to a decisive win.

While the record books show the winning margin to be 4min44sec, it was a dramatic turn of events late in the event that saw Matt Close narrow the gap.

But Close’s run cruelly ended when he crashed on the penultimate stage of the rally.

Vandenberg then miraculously limped home after smoke began pouring from the exhaust of the Nissan with one stage remaining, the result hanging in the balance until the bitter end.

The Whites won a fifth crown in 2015 in the Lamborghini, which was to be their final triumph in the Italian supercar.

There was salvation finally for Matt Close in 2016 who alongside Cameron Reeves guided his Porsche 911 GT3 to a much deserved victory.

Now campaigning American muscle, Jason and John White claimed back-to-back wins in 2017 and 2018 in a Dodge Viper, the latter victory moving them to an astonishing seven outright TARGA Tasmania victories, one short of record-holders Jim Richards and Barry Oliver.

It was a real David v Goliath battle in 2019 with highly decorated circuit racer and Tasmanian-born Paul Stokell releasing a lifelong dream by guiding his Lotus Exige Sport 350 to the outright win alongside top co-driver Kate Catford.

Earlier in the year a significant chapter in the TARGA story was confirmed when the Dutton Group took ownership of the business that runs the Motorsport Australia TARGA Championship.

This was a watershed moment in the history of tarmac rallying as the Dutton Group took over the TARGA suite of events which comprises TARGA High Country (Mt Buller), TARGA Great Barrier Reef (Cairns) and the showpiece TARGA Tasmania.

Dutton Group CFO, Matt Hanson played a key role in the acquisition with TARGA’s events seen as a perfect fit for the renowned business which focuses on classic and modern exotic car ownership.

In 2020 as the COVID-19 virus gripped Australia, TARGA Tasmania, like many high level sporting events, could not go ahead.

Last year Tasmanians Eddie Maguire and co-driver Zak Brakey guided their Dodge Viper to a richly deserved victory.

Maguire and Brakey’s triumph solidified the many incredible chapters which have been written since that inaugural TARGA Tasmania in 1992.

As the countdown to the 30th anniversary TARGA Tasmania looms, will Jason and John White finally equal the eight victories achieved by the incomparable Jim Richards and his trusty sidekick Barry Oliver?

Or will first-time winners climb the Everest of tarmac rallies.

Stay tuned.