Wanaka pair claims Targa title

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 4 Nov 2017 | Latest News
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The Toyota 86 of Matt Bailey and Jerry Rowley in action during the Targa New Zealand Rally. PHOTO: PROSHOTZ PHOTOGRAPHY

Wanaka helicopter pilot Jerry Rowley can now add four-wheeled racing success to his list of achievements after winning his class at the Targa New Zealand Rally with co-driver Matt Bailey.

Rowley's previous experience in the car consisted of competing in the two-day Hawke's Bay Targa in May, where he and Wanaka aircraft engineer Bailey finished third in the 0-2000cc 2WD category, some tutored laps at Highlands Motorsport Park and the 1500km drive to the Hamilton race track to begin the event.

However, the two relative novices had a lot in their favour; Bailey has serviced Rowley's helicopter for the past 13 years.

‘‘The first 20 people I asked [to co-drive] said ‘hell no, you don't know how to drive' and the 21st said ‘yes','' Rowley joked, nodding at Bailey.

The co-driver's threat throughout the five-day event was that if Rowley didn't keep his foot on the gas, he would take over driving duties, Bailey quipped.

Good-natured ribbing aside, the pair got through the exhausting days that involved 28 closed special stages totaling 641.56km and 1167.07km of touring sections with ‘‘no arguments and still laughing at the end'', Bailey said.

The other good card they were dealt was the Toyota's previous owner, Cromwell's Grant Aitken, had poured a lot of his long and successful racing expertise into setting it up as the ideal Targa car. Light-weight and powered by a 200hp (149kW) 2-litre naturally-aspirated Subaru Boxer engine, its only requirement over the entire Targa was tyre changes by their Auckland-based service crew, run by Trevor Newman.

After settling into the rhythm of the event and learning to drive the roads as he saw them, the results started to come for Rowley and Bailey.

The pair pinpointed the Whangamomona stage, near Stratford, as the turning point. While many of the co-drivers were unwell due to the tight, twisty nature of the roads, Bailey kept his head and Rowley felt ‘‘that was the one that really felt like a breakthrough stage'', he said.

They had been placing around 38th to 40th overall in the stages previously but after hammering through the roads around the small Manawatu-Wanganui region township, they finished 23rd overall in the stage among some much higher-powered machinery and more experienced teams.

Then on the final day ‘‘we kicked arse'', Rowley said, with a laugh.

They blazed into 17th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd positions overall in the final stages ‘‘beating driver combinations that we shouldn't have been'', Bailey said.

The strong finish handed them victory in the 2WD GT2 0-2000cc class and gave them an overall position of 28th out of the 51 cars that completed the event.

The Wanaka duo thanked their sponsors and wives and are already eyeing the return of Targa New Zealand to the South Island next year and ‘‘being able to go over the Crown Range as fast as [we] can'', Bailey said, his eyes gleaming.

Dunedin's Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant achieved a class win in the Production 2WD category in Dippie's Porsche GT3 RS and finished fifth overall.

Winning their fourth event in as many years, the 2017 Targa New Zealand winners Glenn Inkster and co-driver Spencer Winn (Mitsubishi Evo 8), of Auckland, have matched the consecutive event record of Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn and co-driver Naomi Tillett.