The Targa

The Targa is an iconic event in NZ’s road racing calendar. The Targa Competition is the passport to driving as fast as you dare through scenic and technically challenging Kiwi roads, testing your driving and navigating capability, and your service crews’ tenacity. On the other hand, the Targa Tour is for those who want to enjoy their non-competition vehicles on the same stunning roads.

The latest edition of the ‘ultimate road race’ was held over the last week of October 2018 in the lower South Island. It involved 5 days of driving, with 621km of special stage racing on closed roads and a further 1851km of touring.

The Team & Vehicle

Our Magnum Prestige Racing team for the 2018 event consisted of driver Garry Cliff, winner of many Rally championships and experienced Targa competitor, myself as navigator – something I’ve done since 1982, and full-time race car engineer Mark Smith.

Our vehicle was a 1999 Subaru Impreza STI Coupe, set-up for racing in 2018 by Mark. Under the hood was a 3.0 litre 6-cylinder Boxer motor, together with 4wd limited slip differentials, MCA suspension, and a 5-speed gear box.

Our 2018 Event

Day 1
• 6 Special Stages
• Departed Invercargill with stages in the north at Wyndham and Gore and as far northwest as Roxburgh before returning to overnight in Invercargill
• The fast-open straight Southland Roads on Day 1 saw us lose some time to the bigger horsepower, purpose-built Targa vehicles

Day 2
• 6 Special Stages
• Departed Invercargill starting with the Catlin’s Highway Stage followed by stages around Balclutha, Lawrence, Taieri, Outram and overnighted in Dunedin with service and Parc Ferme at Forsyth Barr Stadium
• As we moved North into Otago and Central the more technical route was more favourable to our lesser horsepower setup and we were able to claw time back and climb the leader-board
• The highlight of Day 2 was the 43km stage through the very picturesque Catlin’s Highway (not that there was a lot of time to take in the scenery!)

Day 3
• 8 Special Stages
• Departed Dunedin heading north with stages around Palmerston including a couple of passes through Trotters Gorge then toward Oamaru and as far inland as Duntroon before returning to Overnight in Dunedin again with service and Parc Ferme at Forsyth Barr Stadium
• Day 3 brought the rain which really suited our car and experience on gravel proved to be game changer in the slippery conditions and we pressed on taking more time out of the Tarmac specialist cars who all seemed a bit timid in the trying conditions – lots of fun and adrenaline at up to 200kph in the rain around corners

Day 4
• 6 Special Stages
• Departed Dunedin with a couple of local stages including the fantastic Mt Cargill Road before heading southwest towards Milton, Lawrence and Millar’s Flat and overnighting in Queenstown
• The weather improved by Day 4 and the evened things out for the field

Day 5
• 4 Special Stages
• Departed Queenstown with a couple of 4 lap sprints around Highland Park in Cromwell along with the fantastic stage over the Crown Range before finishing at the Queenstown lakefront
• Unfortunately the lap sprints didn’t suit our vehicle, and consequently we dropped some time and a few overall positions
• The event concluded on a great note in front of a large crowd gathered on the Queenstown shoreline


Overall the week went very well for us, with only one setback mid-week where our fantastic service team performed a miracle and swapped out an engine during the overnight service break in Dunedin. It was very fortunate that we had a spare available and the changeover in Dunedin meant we still completed all 30 stages without losing any time or gaining any penalties. We ended up with the following results:
• 1st in Class 8 (pre-2001 4WD production Class)
• 1st Overall in Index Performance 4WD (a handicap system where they take into account the age, weight and engine size of your vehicle)
• 18th Overall from 68 starters.

A special thanks to our few sponsors Rheem, Mico Plumbing & Bathrooms, RMC, Clyne & Bennie Plumbing and Magnum Prestige who help make these events possible.

James Cowles has been sitting in the silly seat as Navigator in Motor Rallying since 1982. With various drivers James has crossed the finish line at the International Rally of NZ along with finish lines throughout New Zealand, achieving numerous championship podiums and many class and outright wins. James is a director of Canterbury plumbing firm Clyne and Bennie Plumbing.

Article by: James Cowles