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One of the Targa Tasmania Casualties

One of the Targa Tasmania Casualties

You think you know excitement.

You were excited when the Saints went into the 2010 grand final against Collingwood and then less excited when they drew. You were excited when you turned 21 only to be less excited when you realised you had to pretend to be responsible.

But you don’t know excitement unless you have been in the middle of 283 cars, 566 drivers and navigators and 400km of subsonic travel through the world’s most beautiful forests, trees, farms, coasts and cow paddocks so entrancing that Indonesian entrants Lo Min Cae and Lilian Thoeng drove their beautiful blue Lambo through the blackberry bushes and a barbed wire fence before coming to rest among the cow pats and tiger snakes.

Then a new Ferrari decided, rather than take a sharp left hand turn 40m after the start, it would go rogue and become at one with very significant pieces of timber, much of which was still attached to the Eucalyptus regnans, known to have a girth of more than 21m.

Of course, we are talking Targa Tasmania, which finished up at Princess Wharf carpark in Hobart on Saturday night.

Let’s go all the way back to Monday when Michael McMichael and I left the Launceston Silverdome (guess why it’s called the Silverdome?), where all cars where compulsorily parked, to head to the official Targa start at the Lonnie Country Club & Casino. As part of the heavy safety procedures, rally officials give a breath test to every entrant every morning before every start. Luckily, we found a way around that: we paid two local punters to say they were us.

Friends, if you haven’t been to Lonnie (the Paris of the north of Tasmania) then you haven’t been anywhere. Set on the point where the North Esk and South Esk rivers collide at the James Boag Brewery (can I beg you to take the experience tour but remember; no thongs and kiddies under 11 will not be allowed any samples) this is the city where Conde Nast Traveller Magazine could have said: “Move over Mustique, here comes Lonnie. The Old Umbrella Shop, The Town Clock and the Lonnie Lanes Bowling and Curling Centre make this northern Tasmanian city the must do place this year.”

As one who always puts duty in front of discomfort I said I would navigate the first two sections as long as I could use the sick bags from the Spirit of Tasmania car ferry and nightclub. My stint in the passenger’s chair did not start well. We had been driving towards the casino for 90 minutes. Michael subtly pointed out that it was meant to take five minutes. I held up the race notes to show him how meticulously I was following them when he subtly pointed out (again) I was using the race notes for two days’ time.

After this slight slip-up, we did officially start. As we crossed the start line a local Lonnie character, know as SK or Serial Killer, rushed up to our car yelling obscenities that roughly translated as “hullo good fellows, do you have on your persons one of those free Australian Biros that doesn’t work?” Michael replied “Yes SK, if you drop the chainsaw my navigator will willingly give you a free Australian biro that doesn’t work.”

Then it was off to the first stage. A mere 340km (at least by my navigating) stretch up what passes for a road in these parts. Officials told us the roads would be closed so we could use the whole thing but they didn’t mention four-trailer logging trucks were exempted from the ban. Thus, when Michael executed a hairpin bend at 120km/h on the wrong side of the road, there was something of a surprise for the Mack truck driver and us.

McMichael, not only navigated and drove the 1990 BMW 3 series with the Alpina engine and the M3 running gear and the special blue go-fast tape holding our stickers on, he did all of those together while performing free brain surgery on needy people like Nissan Skyline and Tasmanian Devils owners, while also giving nude faith healing and Tantric sexual healing lectures to the 566 drivers before every stage.

Fellow competitors and medicos, palliative care professor David Currow and orthopaedic surgeon John Ireland, were amazed by Michael’s generosity and it is believed they will be introducing some aspects of nude faith healing to their practices.

Surely in a country like ours, for a man like this we can make an exception and have Michael kneel on the investiture stool while Betty Windsor lays the big silver sword across his shoulders and says “Arise Sir Michael of Michael McMichael Motors of Stepney Street next to the bloke who reconditions taxi engines. Michael McMichael Motors now has the Royal Warrant and is the Official Supplier of BMW Servicing and spare parts to Her Majesty The Queen.”

Look, I think this would renew loyalty to the Queen and the whole royal family in Australia.

Well, at least in the Kensington Hotel, on the appropriately named Regent Street in the equally well named Royal Borough of Kensington. The Kenso is of course home to the Michael McMichael Lodge, as well as Sneaky Beer on Fridays from 4pm to 6pm, open uke night and $12 burger and pint night every Thursday. Betty has often said that when she, Phil and the kids visit South Australia, their first port of call is the Kenso.

“My husband and I head straight for the Kenso and share the platter for two. At only $38 plus $19 per extra person you get halloumi, duck spring rolls, sticky pork belly, sweet potato and salmon croquettes, dip and pita. Try and get that on the Strand!”

Anyway, back to the rally.

On the third day we decided to give the other 283 entrants a chance.

Yes, we decided to stop the starter motor working (again) so we had to push start the mighty 1990 BMW 3 series (it celebrates its 30th birthday in 2020 … 30 car years is the equivalent of 193 human years) from then on. This meant around 10 times a day.

We started the day in 110th place with a determination to grind our way up the ladder with a mix of daredevil driving and sparkling navigation.

Well, you know how that went. I navigated the first stage but before the start, I read the course notes and I was too frightened to read them again let alone give Michael instructions during the 200km/h stage. Besides that, I felt car sick every time I looked down at the notes. As Michael pointed out a racing helmet full of this morning’s breakfast is not a good portent for the rest of the day.

The course notes carried warnings like and I quote: “At 10.5km the road goes straight on then 60m road goes left — don’t cut this corner; the culvert will consume a vehicle” , “serious physical harm or death including total destruction of the vehicle” and “at 14.6km a tight right hand corner with a straight drop down on the side of 1500 metres …. drive cautiously. It is hard to retrieve bodies from the bottom of the ravine”.

Friends, Targa Tasmania is a veritable who’s who of this and other countries’ great, good and not so good.

Remember Glenn Ridge from Sale of the Century? Turns out he is a very serious wheel man and is driving a 1995 Mazda RX-7 SP with his son Oliver Ridge. Lynas Corp director Phil Ettienne is among the corporate heavies in a 1958 Porker. Renee Brinkerhoff has brought her 1956 Porker 356 Outlaw all the way from Colorado. John and Jason White look set to take out first in their Dodge Viper. John is one of Australia’s unknown genii. He created the now multinational Delta Hydraulics based on his own inventions and now is living the dream with his own Iron House Brewery, distillery and vineyard and motorsport team.

Despite letting the WART BMW and drivers compete, Targa Tasmania is one of the world’s best organised and safest motor sports events.

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