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Targa Tasmania – From The Driver’s Seat.
It took me 26 years to finally participate in the Targa Tasmania Rally!
It was always the usual old problem, of not having enough money and not wanting to equip a road car with all the motorsport safety requirements, including a full roll cage. This is where the Lotus Tour made it possible for me to drive the whole Targa route at a brisk pace in a road car.
I was lucky to be able to take a ZAGAME Automotive Lotus Exige Sport 350 Roadster on the event this year. And what an event it was! With nearly 300 cars participating and over 600 people involved with the rally, it is a major Australian motorsport event, of international repute. Whereas for Targa Competitors, it turns into a 10-day event, for us on the Tour, it could all be condensed into one week away from the office. This is because we were not competing against each other or the clock and hence we were not invited to stay-on for the Prize Giving!
In all, there were 15 Lotus cars participating in the various categories and at the completion of the event, Paul Stokell in a Lotus Exige S finished a very competitive 4th overall. To add to Lotus glory on the event, Targa rookie Jeff Morton finished 1st in the speed limited GT Sports Trophy category driving an Exige Sport 350, while Targa veteran Martin Duursma finished 3rd in the same class driving an Exige V6 S. Meanwhile, back in the Lotus Tour, we drove ahead of the competitive field each day, which had the advantage of getting to the pub early. Besides the Lotus Tour, there was also a Ferrari Tour and a Porsche Tour. Plus some independent Tour participants, driving all sorts of cars.
I was lucky to find a Targa Tasmania veteran who had participated in 21 previous Targa Rallies, both as a driver and as a navigator, to navigate for me. His name is Philip Blake and it was really nice to have an experienced navigator who knew all the stages.
On a typical day, we would drive about 7 stages and cover a total distance of around 350 kms. The fabulous thing on the stages was that the roads were closed to other traffic, so we could really enjoy a nice fast drive, using all the road.
The event provided me with my first opportunity to have a proper drive of the new Lotus Exige Sport 350. Wow, what a car!
I had use of a beautiful Exige Orange Roadster (colour exclusive to the Exige range), fitted with automatic transmission. The auto transmission has really been dramatically improved over what was fitted to earlier Exiges, with quick changes, both up and down.
I drove the stages in Sport mode, using the paddles, but when left to its own devices, the gear changes were also well timed and intuitive. Importantly, the paddles are fixed to the steering column, so they are easy to find when steering lock is on.
Besides the effortless performance, the most impressive thing for me was the ‘front-end’. Turning into corners at high speed was a real pleasure, as the car went exactly where you wanted, with no understeer. If the corner tightened, it was no problem to wind on a bit more lock and the Exige responded perfectly.
The ‘back-end’ also behaved really well, staying planted, unless provoked into a touch of oversteer under power. All in all, the Exige is brilliantly balanced.
The brakes were also terrific, with a lot of feel and absolutely no fade.
As a confirmed ‘stick-shift man, I must say, it took to the automatic version. It made driving the Exige really fast, just so easy, but still totally involving.
Please note that Lotus Cars Australia is planning another Lotus Tour for Targa High Country in November and we would like to have at least 3 Victorian Lotuses participation. Give me a call to express your interest. As soon as more details are available, we will let our Lotus data base know, as well as Lotus Club Victoria.