Defending and now three-time Targa NZ title holders Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn (Mitsubishi Evo 8) deservedly hold favourite status heading into this year's five-day Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally which starts at Hampton Downs next Tuesday (October 24) and ends at Wellington's Taranaki Wharf on Saturday October 28.
In between are 641.56km of (28) closed special stages and 1167.07km of touring sections with overnight stops in Hamilton (Tuesday & Wednesday), New Plymouth (Thursday) and Palmerston North (Friday).
Separately scored two-day Regional Rally and Tour events will also run concurrently starting in New Plymouth on Friday October 27 and finishing in Wellington on Saturday October 28. They have attracted an additional eight competition entries plus nine Tour starters bringing the total event entry over the five days to over 100 cars.
The annual Targa NZ event remains on the 'Bucket list' of many motorsport fans and every year attracts a broad cross-section of regular competitors, from tarmac rally specialists to sports and classic car owners who complete the Targa Tour which follows the same course but is not timed.
Having now won the past three Targa New Zealand events Glenn Inkster and his co-driving boss (he owns electrical utilities wholesaler Transnet and lighting specialist EcoLight) Spencer Winn are again odds-on favourites for both the AndrewSimms.co.nz Allcomers 4WD class as well as the event overall in the much modified Mitsubishi Evo 8 Inkster describes as 'part rally car, part Supercar.'
Since switching his primary focus from gravel to tarmac events, Inkster served a lengthy apprenticeship under five-time former event winner Tony Quinn before taking over from 'the master' in 2014.
Quinn has returned twice since, but has been forced to forego this year's because of a final day date clash with the penultimate round of the Australian GT Series at his Hampton Downs circuit.
Despite Quinn's absence Inkster and Winn face no lack of competition this year. The winner of the 2013 event, and podium finishers (second last year, third in 2015) for the past two years, Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant from Dunedin, are back in Dippie's latest Porsche GT3 RS and again look set to dominate the Global Security Production 2WD class as well as vie for overall event honours.
Multi-time two-day Rotorua event winner Leigh Hopper and co-driver Michael Goudie (Subaru WRX Impreza) also head a posse of no less than six 4WD Turbo cars just as quick as Inkster's in the AndrewSimms.co.nz Allcomers 4WD class.
Included in that group are the Mitsubishi Evos of Auckland pair Jason Gill and Mark Robinson, 2004 NZ Rally champion Chris West and co-driver Chris Cobham, Dave Rogers and co-driver Aidan Kelly as well as current NZ Rally championship sponsor Brian Green and co-driver Fleur Pedersen in a locally-built Evo-engined Mitsubishi Mirage, and the Subaru WRX of Nic de Waal and co-driver Shane Reynolds.
It's going to be hard to look beyond the name Kirk-Burnnand in the Metalman Classic 2WD class, with son Mark and father Chris from Wellington (BMW M3) heading a three-strong 'clan' entry alongside Chris' Auckland-based brother Barry and his co-driver Dave O'Carroll (BMW M3), and Barry's BMW 325i-driving son Carl and mate Scott Hay.
Barry's other son Steven completes the picture in the BMW 318i Compact he built and runs in the Global Security Allcomers 2WD category with his co-driver, Mike Hay.
If anyone is going to take the battle to the Kirk-Burnnands it could well be Australian couple Keith and Mary-Anne in a tarmac-spec Mk 2 Ford Escort RS1800. Palmerston North car dealer Rob Ryan and co-driver Paul Burborough can also be relied upon to set quick stage times in Ryan's Toyota AE86.
The action kicks off this year at the Hampton Downs circuit with documentation from 9.00am on Tuesday October 24. After the official start at 2.00pm the field head south for two special stages before the first overnight stop in Hamilton.
Targa New Zealand events are organised by the Ultimate Rally Group with the support of sponsors AndrewSimms.co.nz, Chicane Racewear, Ecolight, Global Security, Kids In Cars, Metalman.co.nz, NZ Classic Car magazine, Race Brakes, Racetech, TeamTalk, TrackIt, VTNZ and Writeraze.
For more information go to www.targa.co.nz or check out the Targa NZ 'the Ulitmate Road Race' page on Facebook.
To talk to Targa Event Director Peter Martin tel 0-9-298 8322 or 0274 525 643.
To get in touch with event media man Ross MacKay from Fast Company tel 021 677 919 or e-mail on email@example.com