The Targa Tasmania Road Rally is one hell of a drive. The self-proclaimed ‘Ultimate Tarmac Rally’ laps the island hanging off the eastern tip of Australia.
The moment the first car comes flying up the mountain pass towards us, it’s clear the Tasmanians have the right idea. Its headlights are ablaze, its engine fizzing, exhaust rasping and body leaning hard one way then the next through a series of uphill switchbacks. The whoops and cheers from the crowds match the shriek of the tyres through the fast right-hand sweeper. Targa has arrived, and Tasmania loves it.
Following the rally on its lap of the island (a pocket-sized 225 miles east to west, 190 miles north to south), the reception of the locals is nothing less than rapturous.
Through town centres and country villages, over barren mountains and beneath all-enveloping jungle canopy, beside the lashing sea or past the solitude of vast lakeside expanses, the Targa throws everything it’s got at the drivers of the 300 rally-prepared classic and sports cars that enter.
And us, too. We’re following them through every stage, or, bleary eyes permitting, getting the jump on them to scout ahead before the field tears through Tasmania’s spectacular scenery. Not that four-in-the-morning starts are a bad thing. With traffic non-existent, hitting Tassie’s highways is better than any double espresso.
A dose of rallying history
For spectators, Targa’s appeal is not just Tasmania’s variety of landscape, the heroics of unknown drivers, or the appeal of some big names – such as former World Rally Championship driver Alister McRae – having a shot at the crown. There are the cars, too.
Mark II Ford Escorts, 2.7 RS 911s and tuneful Alfa GTV6s dance before your eyes in a kaleidoscope of rallying through the decades. The contrast with the devastatingly efficient Subaru Impreza WRX STis and Mitsubishi Evos is stark. And then there are some of the most mind-blowing machines in production today, such as the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera or the Porsche 911 GT2.
Fancy a go yourself?
Some roads wind into the mountains, others fire arrow-straight across burnt orange plains, while the coastal routes hug the kind of dramatic scenery you thought only existed in the movies. It would be mind-blowing to drive the event for real. And, financially mundane matters aside, why not? The Rookie Rally breaks in beginners gently, with three days instead of five. Or, if that’s still too much, the Tour class allows you to run all stages ahead of the field in your private car without the pressure of a stopwatch or costs of specialist car preparation.
But if that doesn’t grab you, then a simple visit to Tasmania, with its warm and friendly people, memorable scenery and, of course, those roads, would be worth sending a postcard home for.