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HOW TO SEE TASMANIA AT 200 km/h
© Anita Ryan 2002

When Melbourne-based racing team principal Peter Fitzgerald first offered me a position in his service crew for Targa Tasmania, I wondered how a girl who barely knew the front of a car to the back could possibly be of assistance. However, over the six days of the rally, I discovered a resource pool of endurance and improvisation I never knew I had, especially considering I'd arrived in Tasmania with naught but my camera, corkscrew and a big woolly coat. 

Targa Tasmania is a unique international classic rally held annually since 1992. It attracts the best touring, sports and GT cars in the world, with the competition concept being drawn directly from the best features of the Mille Miglia, the Coupe des Alpes and the Tour de Corse. The competition is open only to select cars from around the world, and showcases a range of vehicle types, from historic cars from 1900, to touring classic and modern sports cars. 

Out of 254 cars taking part in this year's rally, as part of Fitzgerald's service crew we were responsible for keeping a stable of nine cars refuelled at strategic locations around each day's course, and for maintaining the vehicles in top mechanical condition. This translated to 18 hour days comprising of frantic dashes to meet drivers at pre-organised locations, juxtaposed by long hours of tedium waiting for all nine cars to pass through our net. Either side of these activities, we worked behind the scenes sourcing and collecting fuel supplies on an island that doesn't import racing fuel (not even premium unleaded), or lying under engines replacing suspensions and brake pads. Sometimes we were even expected to carry luggage and do laundry, although I don't recall that being on my job spec before I signed on.

Day One of the rally was focused on the Prologue - a 5.08km timed run through the streets of Georgetown to decide the starting order. The day started with school choirs and excited locals sending the cars off from the Launceston Country Club Casino. The official start process took over two hours in order to ensure a 30-second gap between each car, by which stage the starter's flag had either gotten too heavy or they'd run out of VIP's because I got a turn. I sent a 1972 Fiat 124 Sport on its way which was fortuitous as it was later voted "Most Spectacular" by the judges after a spin on the course hairpin.

Watching the prologue from roadside vantage points, the crowds were thrilled with driversí tight cornering and rev action. Peter Brock in his 2002 Holden Monaro CV8 cemented his position as crowd favourite as he threw his tail out around a chicane while waving one hand out the window. Meanwhile, world champion aerial skier Kirsty Marshall announced she was just happy to make it through to the end.

Once the starting order was determined, we got ready for Leg One (a Launceston to Devonport loop) the following day. We climbed into our van, named Jean-Claude (Damn Van), and hurtled towards Devonport in order to beat the road closures. Even though we passed enticing tourist attractions and wineries, there was no time to spare - our priority was to be in position for refuelling when the first of our cars came through. Any sight-seeing was from the front seat of Jean-Claude, or for roadside wee stops. At one such stop just out of Longford, I resorted to visiting a tractor shed as there were no trees in sight. A farmer surprised me by being present in my intended throne-room, but played an incredibly gracious host and built me a cubicle out of hay bales. His hospitality was a measure of all Taswegians I met - they are some of the friendliest people in Australia.

While the action was happening on the race stages, I was waiting with my service crew team in obscure and isolated roadside verges in Tasmanian high country. During Leg One, I finally got the chance to refuel my first Porsche. Fuel can in hand, I stood by as driver Tony Quinn squealed to a stop beside our crew in his 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo.

"I can't stand the suspension", he said.

"Oh really? I love the anticipation!" I replied.

My fellow service crew members quickly demoted me to window washer as they took over to check the, ah, (mechanical) suspension in question. Ace mechanic Andy Gillespie refuelled while German-factory-qualified Porsche mechanic Danny Dixon scurried under the engine. Sixty seconds later, the Porsche roared off and we settled back into the tranquility of the paddock space while we waited for our next customer.

The weather for the first two days of racing was unusually fine for this time of year. However, we were greeted with overcast skies on the morning of Leg Two (Launceston to Hobart via the east coast). Drizzle accompanied us during the sprint to Bicheno on the east coast, and was our constant companion all day. I was delighted to find a real cafe latte at a quaint coffee house in Bicheno's main shopping strip (of four shops). It was heaven in a polystyrene cup sipping it while watching Peter Brock work his way from outside the Top 20 to ninth position and Rick Bates in his 1995 Mazda RX7 SP drive his way into third position behind the unbeatable Jim Richards and Barry Oliver team.

Leg Three saw us racing around the Hobart region, criss-crossing our way around the course. The route took us through beautiful hills and vales, historic towns and by lush natural beauty. At the idyllic Cygnet stage, Steve Richards in his Monaro heard navigator Jenny Cole's call of "right three" but saw tyre marks going left, and compromised by driving straight ahead into an embankment at 80km/h. Mental note: approach hairpin turns (and there are thousands of them in Tasmania) with respect.

Elsewhere on the course, six navigators reported car sickness on the winding roads, one of them into his lap. Sydney motorsport marketeer Richard Fowler was another victim, giving the left hand side of his supercharged 1970 Porsche 911T a techni-colour paint job. He described the leg as one of the worst days of his life, and has vowed to never be a navigator again - not at over 100km/h at least.

The next day we woke up to front-page headlines about a 1955 Fiat 600 being powered by a lawnmower engine, while a plane-meets-building disaster in Milan scored a brief mention on page 19 of the Mercury. It was just another indication of how much the Taswegians love their rally - like the 200,000 or so spectators who line the route aren't proof enough of that already.

We headed north again, straight up through the middle of the island to Burnie. Our outlook was the vast farmland and rolling pastures, melding into a stunning and wild coastline as we reached the northern coastal township. I recall passing the town of Penguin, which got us wondering what its footy team would be called - not the Penguin Killers one would hope.

For the first time in the rally, we got the chance to have dinner and to sample some local wine. We stopped at Boat Harbour, one of the prettiest little harbours I've ever seen. As I sipped on a Freycinet Cabernet, I was enraptured with the sunset over the waves and the wild beauty typical of Tasmania.

The final leg took us back to Hobart via the mining town of Queenstown. The red and stark landscape was an extreme opposite to the lush green mountains we passed through south of Burnie, but just as breath-takingly beautiful in its own way. This leg was designed to test endurance, with the Strahan stage running for 33.59km and the Mount Arrowsmith stage (running through the Cradle Mountain National Park) running for 47.67km.  Following the rally from behind, we passed dozens of car casualties littered along the roadside, the most wrenching of which was a 1939 Jaguar SS100.

The weary travellers reached Hobart's Wrest Point Casino before sundown, and many saw sunrise the next morning as they celebrated their achievements throughout the night. Amongst the revellers were television presenter Glenn Ridge and navigator Bob Edwards. They drove their way into Targa history books by joining the elite Diamond Honour Roll, comprised only of teams who complete each and every Targa stage within trophy time an amazing nine times.

I also entered the record books with a new prize category: "Best Service Crew"... it was a self-awarded chocolate medal on a shoe-lace strap, but all teams agreed they couldn't have done Targa without their dedicated service crews working so hard behind the scenes.

As I imbibed the local Cascade beer and toasted the bravery and strength of the drivers and navigators (again and again - there were over 200 teams who crossed the finish line after all), I wondered how it is that Tasmania has remained one of Australia's best kept secrets. The scenery is sublime, the people relaxed and hospitable, and the food, wine and lattes incredibly satisfying.

Whether as part of Targa Tasmania at 200km/h, or at a more sedate pace as a tourist, my advice is to make the trip across the Bass Straight to see the delights of this magical little island.

END

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