Today I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do all week. It’s one thing to sit down and write about something you really enjoy, it’s another thing all together to get out there. So today I left the work at the office, got my backside trackside and smelt the fumes.
Unfortunately, due the domain change, the links to pictures were rotten and have now been removed.
I arrived at today’s Southern Loop – stage 3 – Oyster Cove, at about 8.30 this morning, about an hour and a half prior to when the first car was supposed to hurtle down the track. The road hadn’t closed yet so I got to drive the stage myself, albeit at a comparatively sedate speed and with respect for my allotted side of the road.
I decided it would be best to park near the end of the stage and walk in to find a good position for the best pictures. So walking I went, and went, and went. I found myself a nice little spot trackside. Lovely autumnal leaves in the foreground and a great view of a nice sweeping left-hander. For some reason the track marshalls considered my position to be a little distracting for the drivers and dangerous to my person. The first one talked me into climbing up an embankment, which I did, sort of. I basically hid in a tree trying to maintain my ‘perfect spot’ – the race was only minutes away (so I thought).
30 minutes later (ever tried standing straight up in the one spot wedged in a tree on an embankment for 30 minutes in cold and rain??) I got my first glimpse of a car. They were supposed to start at 10.02 and as you can see on the 99Turbo watch (click to enlarge), it’s 11.20 when the first cars zoom past. It was a group of about six cars and thinking I was safe to assume my trackside position, I jumped down my embankment only to see a police car approach and usher me off to safer ground. For good. It turns out the cars that zoomed by were just in the non-competitive touring group, who pay $3,000+ for the luxury of an untimed run on the full Targa course, at speed, using the whole road.
All the images you see in this post (except the one on the right and a few to come) were taken with my own camera, in the freezing cold wind and rain. It was an almost arctic day in stretches today, but it was worth every second. Standing in the crowd as I was and watching these people drive these machines in the manner they were designed for was a true pleasure. And despite the threats of more wind and rain tomorrow, I’ll be doing it all again and taking our 14 year old in with me.
Dan had an OK start to the day with solid times on the first three stages. Optimism was high the night before with the promise of rain suiting the 99 down to the ground. It was a good start to a promising day, but unfortunately it came to a drawn out and premature end. The stage I attended was the third of eight for the day. They’d completed two more by time I caught up with them in the township of Cygnet. Unfortunately, they’d completed those two stages with a gearbox locked in 5th gear. Yes, they even had to start the stages in 5th!!! Talk about torque. Despite this handicap, they still managed to stay competitive with the field and maintain their chances of getting that elusive first Targa trophy.
At right is the picture that greeted me when I made my way to the lunch break at Cygnet. You can’t see it here but the car is on stands, and that mud on Matt’s back is due to the fact that he’d been underneath it, trying to find a reason why it was locked in 5th. There was no quick solution. Dan and Roger had already run 2 legs in one gear, as well as drive the extra 29km to get to the lunch area for a permitted service check. It would be imprudent to take it any further, so calls were made and a tow was arranged – along with a replacement gearbox.
At left is the picture that greeted me a few hours later when I finally made my way down to Hobart Automotive downtown. The car was on the hoist, oil draining and bits getting unbolted in a bid to get the new (second-hand) gearbox in within good time. Steve Eyles, probably the greatest pre-98 Saab toolman in all Tasmania, agreed to stay on past beer-o’clock on a Friday afternoon ON HIS SON’S 14th BIRTHDAY in order to help fit the new box. Talk about going above and beyond.
And talk about efficient. I arrived shortly after 5pm. At 5.20 Steve was hooking up the chains to yank the engine out. Being an absolute doofus with tools, I just stood, took photos and watched in amazement as these three blokes who knew what they were up to just went about their business.
By 5.50 Drew was all smiles (left) as the engine and gearbox were being lifted out. 13mm sockets were in abundance and bolts were coming off left, right and centre. I even got a ratchet in my hand at one stage but realised that if i tried to get in there and get my hands dirty I’d just be in some else’s way and they were going to get to it a lot quicker anyway. About 15 minutes later and the box was detached from the block. 30 minutes after that, around 6.45, they started bolting the replacement box back onto the block. Realising my own uselessness in this endeavour, I went and did something useful – I fetched the pizzas.
By the time I got back with one pepperoni, one supreme and one veg-o-rama, the lads were fitting the engine back into the 99. This was at about 7.10 in the evening, just over two hours since they’d arrived on the tow truck. What an absolutely awesome job, and how fortunate is Dan to have a crew so capable and willing. I wish I’d contributed a little more than just providing a little flash photography.
The really bad…
I’ve known Eric Grimshaw and his family for over 15 years, going back to when I lived in Melbourne. We all went to the same church over there. Eric’s from a large family and half of them went to our church. I played bass guitar in the band with his brother in law and played the occasional game of football with his other brother-in-law. I rented a flat from him for a little while too.
Eric and Lynn had three little kids at that stage and he’d work around 12 hours a day building up a little business that made and sold T-shirts. 10 years later that little business is a fantastically successful company producing all sorts of merchandising goods for any business or event. They’re the official licence-holder for Targa Tasmania and have been for several years.
Eric also loves to drive and has been an entrant in Targa for a few years running. His daughter Sarah, knee-high to a grasshopper when I knew them, has been his navigator in the last few events. Last night they were running 5th in the classic competition in their RS2000 Escort, which is a huge effort. When I spoke to him last night in Hobart he was very very excited at how things were going and at the prospect of a really successful run to the end on Sunday. I saw them today in the Oyster Cove stage today and they were absolutely flying!!!
Unfortunately the next stage after Oyster Cove was to be the last for 2005 as they crashed into a power pole and out of the event. Apparently it was on the news, but I didn’t see it. Eric drives as part of a team with two other cars. I spoke to one of his teammates at the lunchbreak who said they both made it out of the car OK, but he was still worried for both of them, especially Sarah, who he said looked quite shaken.
Hopefully they’re both OK and they’ll both get back on the horse next year. I’ll try to catch up with them tomorrow.
At right is the folorn look of a man calling someone to tell them he’s just crashed their Lamborghini. I think that says enough really. Again, click to enlarge and inspect the damage for yourself.
It truly is a pity as not only is it a beautiful car, but Paul Stokell, the man in picture, actually held the overall lead in the event at last night’s finish.
The lead now once again rests with Tasmanian hopefuls John and Jason White, in their Nissan Skyline GT-R, which no doubt benefitted from its AWD traction in today’s slippery conditions.
That’s it for today. I have frozen my buttocks off and will probably have pneumonia for a week, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
See you all tomorrow when we find out if this new 5-speed can carry Dan, Roger and importantly the 99 Turbo itself, through the final 2 days of the Targa Tasmania.