We take on Targa Tasmania with Porsche
Tuesday 27th April, 2021 - 8:00am
There’s plenty of giveaways that this car has been through a hard time.
The gaffa tape on the rear wheel arch is frayed and peeling away. The stone chips around the arch are another sign. Then there’s the thick layer of road grime that dulls the otherwise bright green paint. But this is how a car like this is meant to be used – taking on some of Australia’s greatest roads in whatever conditions the Tasmanian elements throw at it.
It also just happens to be the brand-new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 with PDK transmission, one of only a handful in the country and less than 3500km on the odometer (and most of those have come in the last few days).
Welcome to the Porsche Tour on the 2021 Targa Tasmania tarmac rally – a truly remarkable event but one that was tinged with tragedy.
Torquecafe was invited to join the German brand’s annual pilgrimage to Tasmania for one of this country’s most amazing motorsport events, six days of high-speed driving on some spectacular roads in incredibly demanding conditions.
Unfortunately we can’t talk about this year’s rally without addressing the two fatal accidents, and Torquecafe extends its deepest sympathies to all of the family and friends of three men – Shane Navin, Leigh Mundy and Dennis Neagle. Motorsport Australia has launched an investigation into the two accidents and while we drove the same roads in similar conditions it would be wrong for us to make any comment on the nature of the accident. However, during our time at the event organisers did all they could to keep us safe.
It’s important to note that both cars were in the competitive section of the event, not the ‘Targa Tour’ that Porsche runs, so there are some major safety differences.
The Tour is a separate part of the event, it runs all the same roads as the competitive cars but the runs aren’t timed and competitors are limited to a top speed of 120km/h in the special stages. This is primarily for safety, as anyone in the tour can bring their road car without any modification – no roll cages, harnesses or helmets are required – so limiting speed on these roads is not only understandable but a must to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Porsche hires a specialist firm, Motorsport Safety and Rescue, to help ensure that there is extra safety and logistical support for its owners. Former Supercars regular Karl Reindler was on hand to oversee the Porsche Tour group and briefed all drivers and co-drivers each morning on what to expect and was on hand at the start of every stage in case there were any issues.
While the deaths on the final two days cast a pall over the end of the event, the majority of the week was a thoroughly enjoyable affair with like-minded car enthusiasts enjoying their vehicles in the way they were meant to be driven.
Targa Tasmania runs the Tour category for those who want to enjoy the spirit of the event and enjoy the state’s great roads in a safer, closed off environment without the pressure and cost of competition. Porsche, though, attracts so much interest that it has been running its own separate Tour since 2021.
The concept is simple enough, the Porsche Tour is open to any Porsche owner, whether you’ve bought a new or used car it doesn’t matter – all are welcome. Once you sign up Porsche takes care of everything you’ll need for the week. The program starts in Melbourne, where owners board the Spirit of Tasmania and are transferred to Devonport the night before Targa starts.
Then the Porsche crew are split into different groups (or ‘packets’ in Targa-speak) with approximately eight to 10 cars in each packet based on experience and vehicle type to try and have an even pace across each one. Each packet is headed by a ‘Tour Leader’ which is typically a professional instructor or staff member, with the fastest group led by Porsche chief driving instructor, Luke Youlden.
The former Bathurst winner knows many of the owners through his work at the Porsche Track Experience, with the German brand actively encouraging its owners to explore the limits of their cars in a safe environment and improve their driving skills.
It works because, despite the obvious uncertaining surrounding snap border closures during the on-going coronavirus pandemic, Porsche managed to get 41 cars for this year’s event. And of those, 26 were returning customers which underlines just how popular and enjoyable the Tour is. In previous years Porsche has hosted as many as 60 cars, and while there’s no official cap on numbers the biggest challenge for the company is finding suitable accommodation in remote areas such as Strahan, so that tends to be the biggest limiting factor.
One of the reasons why it’s so popular is the ease of it for the owners. Porsche Australia takes care of all the logistics, from the boat ride over to the hotels, meals and even fuel stops (although owners pay for their own petrol). Aside from having Youlden and Reindler on hand for any driving or safety questions, there’s also Porsche technicians with the team to help out if anything goes wrong with a car.
It’s not exactly cheap at $11,800 for the week, but that includes everything except fuel including accommodation and travel to and from Melbourne on the boat for two people (every car must have a co-driver). It’s good value though when you consider doing it directly with Targa’s own Tour costs up to $10,670 and Porsche lays on more premium dining experience and includes more than $500 worth of merchandise for each participant.
Joining the Tour
Torquecafe didn’t get to tackle the entire six days of Targa, instead we jetted into Tassie on Tuesday evening to begin the event on the morning of the third day. For Porsche Australia this serves as a dual-purpose event, allowing us to experience what it’s like for customers but also it’s a chance to drive the new 718 Cayman GT4 that’s just arrived with the brand’s seven-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch transmission; the six-speed manual remains available too.
As a car for the Tour the Cayman GT4 may be ideal. It’s powered by Porsche’s awesome 4.0-litre flat-six (the brand’s last naturally-aspirated engine) making 309kW of power and 430Nm of torque (which is 10Nm more than the manual) and it sits in the middle of the car for excellent balance.
Even so, dropping into the middle of the event after some very experienced Porsche owners had spent two days warming up made for a challenging start. It didn’t help that the first stage we tackled was Cethana, a 37km run through twisting mountain rounds about an hour from Launceston. With the temperature barely above zero it was hard to get the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tyres warmed up and sticky, so it was an eye-opening run even with the 120km/h speed limit.
It didn’t take long to get comfortable in the car and by the end of the first day the GT4 was coming into its own; but we’ll have to reserve any further details until later in the week, as there’s an embargo on our full review of the car – so stay tuned…
Unfortunately the next three days were dominated by rain – with the Porsche Tour leading off each morning we typically caught the overnight and early showers – and while the Pilot Sport 2 are excellent tyres for a track or hot, dry road, on the cold and wet Tasmanian tarmac they struggled to get into their optimum window and made life a little challenging at times.
Even before the accidents, this author was highly aware that even with the speed limit for the Tour entries, the margin for error was small and consequences of making a mistake were potentially big so a steady approach was best. Plus, I didn’t want to be the one to explain to Porsche that its shiny new 718 was damaged.
The good news is the not-so-slow-but-steady approach paid off and the four days rolled out in an enjoyable fashion. The sun even popped out and dried the roads on the second day for a run through the Gunns Plains stage. With dry tarmac underneath we could push on more comfortably with the tyres gripping nicely and really feel the performance of the GT4 maximised.
It also brought home why Porsche never has any trouble attracting a huge amount of customers for each Targa Tour. This is a great way not only to drive a Porsche the way it’s meant to be driven on the road, without worrying about on-coming traffic or police radar, but also enjoy the camaraderie of fellow petrolheads.
“This is why we own these cars,” was how one owner summed up the event.
By the end of the rally in Hobart, which included a run down a long unsealed road between special stages, the fleet of Porsches were looking dirty and well-used. In a group that included everything from the latest 911 Turbo to 911 GT3 RS all the way to a 993-spec 911 and even a classic 944, none of them looked coddled and over-protected. Porsche makes its cars to be driven hard and on the Targa Tour that’s exactly what happens.
More than just the cars, what seems to bring the Porsche Tour together is the bond between the owners. For six days and seven nights they spend time together, not just driving cars but eating every meal, which makes the event feel a bit like ‘Porsche Camp’.
For example, where else are you going to see a Bathurst 1000 champion making basketball trick shots in a remote Tasmania gymnasium? Yet that’s exactly what happened on our second last day, with Youlden and owners mucking around shooting hoops on a lunch break; for the record, Youlden made a behind-the-back half-court basket (and he was very keen to make sure the entire tour knew in case anyone missed it!).
The midday lunch breaks and nightly dinners were a great way for the entire Tour to mingle and get to know each other. But where you really got to feel the connection between the owners was before each stage, when there was usually a few minutes to compose yourself and stretch your legs before you blast away. It was during that time that you got to swap stories from the last stage or ask about a particular car and the owner’s history with it.
It’s also worth noting that the Porsche Tour is one of only a few manufacturer-run programs, with another brand only running the first three days of the event before its owner’s prefer to go home and avoid wear and tear on their cars. The only other brand as well represented across the entire event as well as Porsche is Lotus, with a similar spirit of ‘driven not hidden’ amongst its owners.
Our packet was predominately made up of Cayman but there were some other models mixed in. Like the husband and wife in their 993, or the 911 GTS that was shared with an uncle and nephew combination and even just two friends sharing a rare Cayman R; who met because they both own one of the 19 examples of the Cayman R in Australia.
And despite the early starts every day and the cold, wet conditions, there was never any complaining – everyone on the Tour gets into the spirit of the adventure.
“They don’t mind roughing it,” explained Porsche Cars Australia director of marketing, Toni Andreevski (who also happened to be our packet Tour Leader). “We were standing around in nearly zero degrees and they were jumping around loving it.”
Thankfully the Porsche owners happily accepted the infiltration of their ranks by a bunch of journalists with good grace. Despite not owning one of Stuttgart’s finest they made us feel part of the team. It’s easy to understand why the Targa Tour is such a popular event for these passionate Porsche folks and why they keep coming back.