Our Mobile Product Delivery Manager Sam Meikle joined Trade Me alumni Mike O’Donnell (MOD) at the Targa NZ 2019 road race.
I don’t often get a call up from MOD, let alone get a request to spanner for him on Targa Rally, but when I do you can be assured the answer is an emphatic ‘HELL YEAH’!
MOD and his partner Charlotte collected me in an FJ Cruiser with a White Ninja Type R Civic on the back, set to leg it to Queens Park Memorial Parc Ferme in Whanganui. We were joined at Plimmerton by local car nut Darryl Monk (who was our Pit Boss for the long weekend), and classic car legend Mike Baucke. Mike’s mint condition 2013 Lotus Evora was to be one of our service vehicles – there were a ton of head turners entered in that rally, but none that snapped necks quite like the Evora did.
We made excellent time to Whanganui so we could kick back in the afternoon sun and watch a steady procession of gorgeous racing machines make their way in. It was as true on the first night as it was for the whole week – everyone had a Trade Me Motors story to tell. As a product manager, these stories are absolute gold. I honestly like nothing more than hearing what does and doesn’t work for our customers.
We were up with the sparrows and back at Parc Ferme early Friday morning for the drivers briefing. Gassed up, windows cleaned, and ginger pills for Charlotte, we strapped driver and navigator in and then us service crew fellas hooned to the first pit-stop in Waiouru.
Any hope of a shortcut evaporated when we realised most of the roads between Whanganui and Waiouru were closed for the rally and roadworks. This meant we’d have to head all the way back out to SH1, then hang a left and get up to Waiouru smartly.
Unlike sunny Whanganui, Waiouru greeted us with a deep chill. Turns out November on the Desert Road is still not shorts weather. We didn’t wait long for MOD and Charlotte to arrive, the pair had an almost perfect first stage, coming in just a couple seconds behind the group leader.
The bash plate underneath the front of the Civic had taken a few knocks, and the side skirt on the right-hand side of the car was a little less straight than at the start of the day, but otherwise, we made it through stage one in great shape.
On to Taihape for lunch and pit-stop number two. I wandered off to grab us lunch and got a little waylaid admiring a Renault Alpine A110 – a beautiful classic car that looked a little less gorgeous with flared wheel guards and a million racing-related stickers.
Pit-stop three was at Marton and the first time we hastily need to perform running repairs. A message came from MOD that he’d lost power steering – turns out a stone flicked up past the bash plate and hit the power steering belt, which flew to pieces and took out the alternator belt as well.
Loss of power steering didn’t cost us too much time, but if we couldn’t fix this post-haste our chances of staying with the group leaders were probably shot. Fortunately, the pit crew next to ours had the right cable and kindly lent it to us, with promises of pints and a replacement part when we hit Palmerston North at the end of the day.
The second-to-last stop for the day was a side road just south of Hunterville. Relatively uneventful, our times were tight and the car, the driver, and the navigator were running super smooth.
From Hunterville, it was on to the last service of the day and parc ferme at the Square in Palmerston North. The sun was out and the hustle and bustle of the rally had folks coming to rubber-neck from all corners.
The Civic had picked up a nasty buzz somewhere on the previous stage, and some hasty investigation pegged it to the bash plate aluminum plug (which the jack rested on) to raise the front of the car. A bolt sheared off, so the plug was vibrating wildly any time MOD had the Civic revving above 6000rpm. This was an easy fix, but something we had to attend to every stop through day two.
At the end of day one, team ‘TMM Type R’ was in the top three of the 2l group – a super solid day of racing.
Saturday couldn’t arrive fast enough, and we were on to Mangatinoka for the first service of the day. I was in the Evora with Mike again, and it was an awesome opportunity to talk about family, love, and life. The gorge has been closed for what feels like forever now, so we had a fun winding trip up over the Saddle Road between the wind turbines.
We started to set a trend (that would last throughout the day) of stealing seconds from the leader. MOD and Charlotte arrived super happy with the car and how well they were working together. Gas, windscreen clean, water and a snack then back into it.
The crew packed up and gunned for Dannevirke, where we’d be stationed for the remainder of the rally. Three more stages after the lunch break, with two service, stops before finishing the day out, back over the hill in Palmy. MOD and Charlotte were cooking with gas now, and they started taking huge chunks out of the group leader until, in the last stage, we hit the front!
We must have made quite the sight, bouncing around as an exhausted MOD and Charlotte made their way into Parc Ferme at the end of the day, whooping and hollering with index fingers pointed to the sky. We won the 2-litre class and were 6th overall with a total time of 2.41.48 across 13 special stages.
Targa prize giving was a stone’s throw from the Square, in a huge room at Palmerston North Speedway. Long lines for kai, a million speeches (there were a ton of categories and winners), and a (fortunate) break in the middle where we slipped out the back and caught the demolition derby light up the Palmy night.
The tag line for Targa is ‘the Ultimate Road Race’ – short, to the point, and I reckon hits the proverbial nail on the head – it’s a crazy good time, with incredible cars and familiar faces and beautiful New Zealand landscapes, and, if you’re in the right team, bloody good mates.