The 2012 Targa Tasmania looms to be the most challenging in the event’s 21 year history, with the longest course ever and the majority of the route new to competitors.
For the first time, the number of competitive kilometres will exceed 600. Indeed, the total is nearly 120 kilometres more than the previous longest, including when Targa ran for seven days in 2000 and 2001.
An additional challenge to face the field of around 240 cars is that only 40 per cent of last year’s course will be used this time around. In the view of Clerk of Course, Stuart Benson, this throws the event wide open.
“This is the most significant change to the course ever, appropriate as we enter our third decade of running the event,” Benson said.
“Don’t be surprised to see the underdog come through as the advantage that many of the experienced competitors have had in the past, which is knowing the stages, has gone.
“I think it will really favour the guys that can totally commit to the notes, drive on the call of their co-driver and not what they know is around the corner.
“In the Modern competition, that means people like Matt Close and Dean Herridge could really come through.”
Both have been knocking on the door in recent times. Herridge took his Subaru WRX to second place last year, enough to secure him the inaugural CAMS Australian Targa Championship title. But the West Australian has missed the last two qualifying rounds, so his form is unknown. His class though, as a winner on the international stage in dirt rallies, is undisputed.
Close has enjoyed his best season ever, finishing second at Targa Wrest Point in January to Jason White, and suspension and computer improvements sees his Audi TT RS working exceptionally well.
While he does not have Herridge’s background with pacenotes, he and co-driver, wife Casey, fully commit to their notes.
The changes to the course start on Prologue day, Tuesday April 17. A warm-up stage at Lilydale has been added to the traditional start through the streets of George Town.
The first proper day starts in reverse to what has been done in the past, with Quamby Brook and Deloraine the first two stages of the day. Lunch remains at Sheffield, and what will follow will be the first test of the teams as they make their way back to Launceston for the overnight stop and the official Targa Expo at the Silverdome.
The Sidling normally greets competitors first up on day two on the East Coast loop. But this year it is the tight twisting Rossarden stage that starts the day and runs in reverse to normal, out to St Helens and back.
Elephant Pass and the Sidling stages are downhill, which will be an enormous test as drivers will have to learn to nurse tyre wear for the extended course ahead.
Longford holds its place as the final stage of day two, before the last night in Launceston.
On Friday, the field starts its journey to Strahan, where they will spend two nights in 2012.
It starts with Mole Creek, then Cethana, before a new stage called Castra, which Benson says “will reward those who are committed”.
Those seeking great photographic action should head to Braddon’s Lookout, the last stage before the Devonport lunch break.
The afternoon will include an extended Hellyer Gorge test, and the new Plimsoll stage on the Anthony Highway.
Saturday is the biggest of Targa Tasmania, with some of the longest stages in the event, including the full length of Gunns Plains, and the 38 kilometre Riana test in the afternoon as the cars return to Strahan again.
Even the final day has been extended. It includes the classic Queenstown and Mount Arrowsmith stages, but the very tricky Woodside stage has been added after the lunch break at Bothwwel, the first time Targa has stopped there since its debut year in 1992.
“By the time the cars get to Wrest Point on Sunday afternoon, the crews will have earned a rest like never before,” Benson said.
“The winners will be have taken on, and triumphed in, one of the great motorsport tests anywhere in the world.”