Winning this year's Targa Rotorua tarmac motor rally in the Bay
of Plenty and Waikato over the Queen's Birthday weekend has
completed an important family circle for Orewa father-and-son
pair Leigh and Gray Hopper.
Three years ago Leigh's other son Stace finished third in
the annual event in his then newly-built Subaru Impreza WRX.
It was an impressive debut for the car and driver but before he
could return to do even better Stace was killed in a light plane
crash in Northland.
To honour his memory his father and brother entered former
New Zealand rally champion Richard Mason and Stace's
original co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick in the car in last year's
Targa Rotorua event and despite some engine dramas the pair
went on to win the event with Leigh and Gray sixth in Leigh's
similar but less developed WRX.
This year Leigh and Gray decided to share Stace's car
themselves and in a fairytale result they dominated the event,
establishing a lead of over two minutes on the first day, and
extending that to four-and-a-half minutes today.
"We did it for Stace," Leigh said as he and Gray were
surrounded by well-wishers in parc ferme after the event. "There
was a bit of pressure yesterday, but that was probably more the
adrenaline than anything else. Today was more about settling in
and maintaining our lead."
Making it a double celebration were long-time family friends,
Rick and Joel Giddy, also from Orewa, who ended up second
overall in their Subaru Impreza WRX.
At the end of the first day of competition on Saturday, Nissan
GT-R35 pair Harry Dodson and Glen Cupit held second place
and on Sunday Dodson retained the advantage until stage 10
when he and Cupit lost valuable time when they ran off the
"We just came into a corner a little hot and we rode up a bank,"
said Dodson. "We carried on but there was so much mud and
stuff under the car and in the wheels that we had to pull over,
get out of the car and clear it. That lost us about three minutes
which was enough to put the Giddies in front of us."
As it turned out the Giddie brothers were having problems of
their own, completing most of the stages without fourth gear.
"So for that reason alone we're rapt with the result," said Rick.
Fourth overall, despite winning all eight Sunday stages, was
rally ace Glenn Inkster and co-driver Spencer Winn.
The pair were vying for the Hoppers for the overall lead heading
into the final Saturday stage only to blow a turbo and lose time.
And though they tried they were not able to make up the deficit
on Sunday.
"We were obviously disappointed about that yesterday
afternoon, but that's motor racing," said Inkster. "Today
our target was to try and win every stage and though we did that
and pulled a lot of time back it wasn't quite enough. We still had
an absolute blast though and at the end of the day that's what
Targa events are all about."
Like overall winners Leigh and Gray Hopper, the winners of the
Classic category, Mitsubishi Lancer GSR pair Cameron Young
and Steven Fisher, also carried over a lead from the first day,
establishing an early advantage in the slippery conditions on
Saturday and maintaining the advantage - despite stiff
competition and a late event clutch change on Sunday.
It was touch and go, in fact, on Sunday afternoon, the Opotiki
pair losing two minutes with a blown clutch in the penultimate
stage. Fortunately they were able to replace the clutch before the
final stage and retain their lead - albeit by the much diminished
margin of 59 seconds.
Perfectly demonstrating the diversity of the Classic field, second
place went to Mark and Chris Kirk-Burnnand in a BMW M3,
third to former New Zealand Speedway champion Brent
Emerson and Sheryl Hanright in a Holden Commodore V8,
fourth to Taranaki pair Stuart Rose and Gary Renall in a muchmodified V8-engined Toyota Hilux ute and fifth to Wanganui
pair Peter Cullen and Paul Tulloch in an exotic mid-engined
Italian-built de Tomaso Pantera.
Local honours again went to the pair who share the distinction
of being the oldest competitors in the event, 73-year-old Keith
Yeats and 83-year-old Shirley Faull from Te Puke. They
finished 12th overall in the Classic category in Keith's 1977
BMW 535i.
Also flying the Rotorua flag were the pair sharing the oldest car
in the field, Mike Lowe and Phillip Sutton. Having completed
all but one of the Targa events run in this country the 1964 Fiat
Abarth is a real crowd facourite and despite clutch problems he
and Sutton finished 18th in class. "We've had another wonderful
day," Lowe said, "and the support we have received from the
Rotorua community has again been fantastic."
This year's Targa Rotorua event attracted 101 starters and was
very much an event of two halves, with wet, cold and slippery
conditions on roads in and around Rotorua on Saturday then
unseasonably warm and dry conditions on roads in the southern
Waikato on Sunday.
Favourites heading into the event were two-time Targa
Tasmania winner Tony Quinn and Adam Tillet in a Nissan GTR35 but the Australian pair only got as far as five kms into the
first stage before breaking a front driveshaft. Highly rated local
Nissan GT-R35 pair Clarke Proctor and Tony Callaghan also
struck trouble, retiring with gearbox problems later in the day.
Targa Rotorua 2011
Modern1. Leigh Hopper/Gray Hopper (Subaru Impreza WRX
Sti) 03:34:50 2. Rick Giddy/Joel Giddy (Subaru WRX STi)
03:39:30 3. Harry Dodson/Glenn Cupit (Nissan GT-R35)
03:39:48 4. Glenn Inkster/Spencer Winn (Mitsubishi Lancer
EVO) 6 03:40:41 5. Ross Johnson/Mike Patching (Porsche 996
GT2) 03:43:04 6 . Stuart Scoular/Bret Scoular (Subaru Impreza
WRX STi) 03:44:07 7. Rick Martin/Munroe Martin (BMW
135i) 03:44:09 8. Simon Clark/Donald Howard (BMW E36
330) 03:49:05 9. Robert Darrington/David Abetz (BMW E46)
03:51:02 10. Derek Cecil/Rebecca Hayes (BMW E36 M3 Evo)
Classic 1 . Cameron Young/Steven Fisher (Mitsubishi Lancer
GSR) 03:48:40 2. Mark Kirk-Burnnand/Chris Kirk-Burnnand
(BMW M3) 03:49:39 3. Brent Emerson/Sheryl Hanright
(Holden Commodore) 03:50:17 4. Stuart Rose/Gary Renall
(Toyota Hilux) 03:51:06 5. Peter Cullen/Paul Tulloch (de
Tomaso Pantera) 03:51:14 6. Barry Kirk-Burnnand/Steven KirkBurnnand (BMW M3) 03:54:01 7. Allan Lewis/Colin Cole
(Datsun 240z) 03:55:15 8. Ross Clarke/Alistair Wickens
(Toyota TA22) 03:55:30 9. Warren Glassford/Nigel Patterson
(BMW 320i) 03:56:28 10. Paul Tanner/Melissa Stewart (Toyota
Sprinter) 03:58:58