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Video: PCA club racers finish Targa New Zealand third in class [UPDATE]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Suncoast Florida Region PCA members Gavin and Amy Riches are no strangers to racing and track events armed with a 2011 GT3 Cup. But for the second time in three years, the Riches competed in the Targa New Zealand. This time they finished third in class, fourth in Modern 2WD, and 11th overall.

[UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gavin and Amy Riches finished the Targa fourth in class.]

Throughout the event, Gavin could run with the fastest competition and sometimes beat it. At a couple points, the Riches were in first place overall. But bad luck took out an engine belt during one of the stages, which cost them 20 minutes and was enough to take them out of the running for first place in class and overall. In spite of the belt failure, they finished the Targa on a strong note.

Featured today is a video of the Crown Range Pass stage by Ryan Symancek of /Drive — you don’t want to miss this amazing run by Gavin with Amy, his wife, co-driving. They set the fastest time ever recorded on Crown Range, a feat that may remain unchallenged until the next South Island Targa New Zealand.

What’s the Crown Range Pass? It’s a beautiful stretch of road from Queenstown to Wanaka, in New Zealand’s South Island ski country. 2014’s Targa marks the first time it’s been held on South Island, so drivers had never experienced the Crown Range Pass, a public road that is rarely closed, in the heat of competition. It features 47 turns, stretches 6.5 miles one way — a 13-mile there-and-back run for Targa competitors — and is New Zealand’s highest paved roadway. The pass gained some fame in 2013 when drifter “Mad” Mike Whiddet put on a performance for Red Bull's video cameras.

Some things to keep in mind about the Targa New Zealand when you’re watching this video: 1) Drivers must stay below 200 kilometers per hour (124.3 mph); 2) Crown Range Pass is not a transit stage, so drivers may go “all out” (up to the 200 km/h speed limit, of course) 3) Co-drivers do not have detailed pace notes — just an information book with maps, intersections, and especially dangerous turns — so one of their main jobs is to help the driver maintain speeds under 200 k/mh; 4) This is not a time-speed-distance (TSD) rally, in which the best competitors all try to finish the stage as close to a predetermined time as possible, it’s more akin to a performance stage rally, where drivers drive as fast as possible; and 5) Cars are released from the starting gate in 30 second intervals. Keep this last note in mind when you reach the 6:45 mark in the video. Enjoy it below! (And below that is a pre-Targa interview with Gavin and Amy that appeared in E-Brake last week.) 

Keep your eyes peeled for a feature video in coming weeks! Special thanks to Ryan Symancek for providing updates and information about Targa New Zealand 2014 for

Video courtesy YouTube via /Drive
Video and Photo by Ryan Symancek

By David Zajano and Damon Lowney As a PCA club racer, what got you into tarmac rally? Why the Targa New Zealand?

Gavin: Well it’s actually backwards. I grew up in New Zealand rallying, and then after I came to live in the States — I’ve lived here for 35 years — I got involved in racing over here, including in PCA racing. But even though I love circuit racing, rallying is still my love. So I get to go back [to New Zealand] and do it every couple years. So Gavin, you started out in rallying then moved to club racing. Amy, did you follow a similar path?

Amy: Not at all. I started with PCA in drivers ed. I’m originally from Texas and had no knowledge of tarmac rallies at all. And so I started out with just PCA, and then got involved with the Targa New Zealand rally.

Gavin: I think you guys know this, but Amy and I went to New Zealand in 2012, right about this time of year and got married. And I took her on a honeymoon as a co-driver in the Targa New Zealand — and she had never done any co-driving in her life — so it was quite an interesting experience and an interesting way to have a honeymoon! Definitely an interesting trial by fire, in terms of the relationship and communication going on in the vehicle.

Amy: Ready to go, right out of the box! Seeing that you both started competitive driving at opposite ends of the motorsports spectrum, what would you say are some of the differences between road racing and rally in terms of preparation for the driver, the co-driver, and the team? How does vehicle preparation differ between rally and road racing?

Gavin: Well, let’s start with the car first. In our case, we’re using a 2011 [Porsche 911 GT3] Cup car for this particular event, which of course is built by Porsche strictly for road racing. So it actually took quite a lot of work on our part to make it work.

Number one, we had to make it street legal. So you have little things that you don’t think about: tag lights, it had to have a horn, we had to have windshield washers, because down in New Zealand, it has to be road registered, and it has to pass all of these different requirements. And then of course, over and above that, we had to do many things, including adding a rally computer. We had to put a completely different suspension system on it, we had to change the gear ratios, we of course had to add a second seat, and we had to change the roll bar around to [accommodate] a passenger. We had to raise the car off the ground to get ground clearance. So there were a lot of things that went into it, back in 2012 when we first took it down, to get it rally suitable.

This time it wasn’t quite so bad because a lot of the work had been done. So mainly it was re-setting up the suspension, changing the gear ratios, putting the passenger seat back in, getting the intercom systems all working, making sure the rally computers were all functioning again, and then checking that all of the road-legal requirements were still in place and working, because some of them we’d taken out when we’d used the car for club racing. As we understand it, the car needs to be road legal due to the transit stages on regular roads between the Targa stages. It needs to be legal and insurable for those purposes.

Gavin: Right. This is a little bit of fun, but when we got back from the rally last time, we had driven it about two-and-a-half-thousand miles, and we said that was probably the longest road trip anybody had ever done in a Cup car. Is it a rule that vehicles must be road legal in the Targa New Zealand?

Gavin: You’re absolutely right. They typically always do [need to be road legal], because, of the total event, probably two-thirds or seventy-five percent of it will be driven on public highways, where we’ll be just tooling around with the regular traffic. It’s only on the special stages where we’re allowed to go fast. So, to be able to go out there and cruise down the highway, you’ve gotta be in a road- or street-legal vehicle that meets the requirements of whatever country you’re competing in. A lot of people don’t realize that, in rally, the straights aren’t as long and you don’t reach the top speeds that you traditionally would in road course racing. Short gear ratios make better use of the power, particularly when exiting corners — you’re almost always in the meat of the powerband.

Gavin: Correct. In this particular event, which is under FIA control, we are not allowed to exceed 125 miles per hour, so we do everything with the car to try and get it to 125 mph as quickly as possible. We have the gear ratios so short that [the car’s] max speed right now is probably 135 mph at 8500 rpm in sixth gear. But it gets there really fast. What other changes to the Cup car help you deal with this six-day event?

Gavin: As with all newer Cup cars, it has a sequential gear box, but since the last event [in 2012] we’ve put in a system by a company out of Europe called K-M-P, which is a paddle shifting system. So now it has pneumatic paddles, which allows us to shift faster, and, from my perspective from a driving point of view, makes life easier because it’s quicker and easier.  We still have the lever in here as a backup in case the system fails, but when you’ve got short ratios, you have to change gears a lot. So if you can come up with a system to improve the speed and ease of that, it’s a big plus. I’m sure fatigue comes into play if you’re reaching down for the gear-shift lever over six days of racing.

Gavin: Funny enough, it does. And the Cup cars’ gearbox — they’re actually quite physical to move, because they’re just sequential with no assistance. So it does actually require a lot of physical force because you have to do it quickly. Otherwise you can cause gearbox issues. You are one-hundred percent right that not having to use the same physical amount of exertion over the period of a day, or in this case, after six days of rallying, it helps a lot [with fatigue]. How do you two prepare as a husband and wife team, and how does that dynamic work over the course of the event? Who takes the lead? What are the different roles that you both have throughout the course of the event — in preparation and in competition?

Amy: I think as far as the preparation leading up to the event — I guess I better start doing it, because it’s coming up pretty quick! I need to start demanding and shouting orders quickly to him just to make sure his response is quick and accurate.

But really, leading up to the event for me is really reviewing the rally symbols, the language, because it’s quite different to what we’d normally use at a track event or something like that. We’ll go over words that we’ll use so that we make sure that if I’m saying “sweep right” or “sweep left,” he understands that it’s not going to be a hard right or hard left — just to clarify the terms that we’re gonna use for the indicators on the roadways, so that is very clear. Once we are on the rally, I think that, fortunately, we work very well together in that it’s a pretty cohesive teamwork effort. He obviously takes more of a lead on the mechanical aspect with anything that’s going on with the car, whereas I tend to take on the lead role for the logistics and working with the crew and those sort of things as the rally is in progress. What would you say Gavin?

Gavin: This is a blind rally as opposed to a pace-noted rally. Which means we don’t get to drive the road beforehand, and the book that Amy is using for her navigation information does not have corner-by-corner information. It just has intersections and maybe a dangerous corner or something. Part of what makes this rallying sort of go back to the old traditional rallying of the ’60s and ’70s — where you are driving the road as fast as you can having never been down it before — [is that] you actually have no idea what’s around the corner or over the jump. You just have to try and anticipate it based on clues that the road may give you or the flow of the road. But you will see if you’re watching in-car video, like if we’re going over a blind hump, we will still lift off [the throttle] because we never know for sure what’s on the other side. So if it doesn’t go straight, we don’t want to be flying and all of a sudden realize the road turns, because that becomes a problem. Amy, are there similarities between co-driving a blind rally to instructing a novice on a road course?

Amy: I think that there are more [similarities] from an instructor’s perspective. My experience in having been through [the Targa New Zealand], I think that it benefits my instructing ability because I can somewhat understand a little bit better how that brand-new student is feeling on a track that they’ve never seen before. Our home track is Sebring, which has 17 turns and can be a bit overwhelming to a new driver. With having an understanding of what it’s like to be on a road that you have no idea which way it goes, I think that gives me a better opportunity to guide them and understand how to instruct them through the turns that are brand new to them while they’re out on track.

Gavin: One of the other things that Amy does in the rally, which you will hear in the footage at times, is that we try to pick up an advantage from her ability to see [around a corner] sooner than I can. So if we’re going around a corner that turns left, and I’m sitting on the left side of the car, because she’s sitting on the right side of the car, she can see around it fractionally sooner than I can. She will call “open” or “closed.” So if she can see it’s opening, I will immediately go to the throttle sooner. If she says it’s closing, I’ll wait. In as many corners as we can, we do that, because if we can just pick up the throttle a fraction sooner coming out of lots of corners at the end of the special stage, we may have made up a few seconds, which is what you’re fighting for all the time. It’s another job that the co-driver is working on, but from my perspective as a driver, you’ve gotta have confidence in the co-driver. If they’re saying it’s opening, well, it is going to open. So they also have to have good road-reading skills. You mentioned the logistics of what goes into putting this Targa New Zealand run together. Can you give us a little overview of that?

Gavin: There is a lot of work for us, because we have to prepare the car within deadline because it’s gotta get on a ship. This year we were right on the deadline because Amy and I had to leave here and drive through the night to get to get the car up to Charleston (South Carolina) to go on the boat, because that was the only boat we could get it on that could get it [to New Zealand] on time. Over and above that, we have to get all the logistics figured out in New Zealand, which is a major undertaking for a six-day event because we have to have accommodations arranged everywhere we’re staying; we have to have a crew; we have to have support; and we have to have service facilities all the way up along the way if we need them. We’ve got two or three service vehicles following us the whole time. When we go on the event, apart from ourselves, we’ll have four fulltime crewmembers traveling with us, plus we’ll have other people available to us if we need help. And before the car left, we had to pack up all the wheels and tires, a whole contingency of parts. Basically everything on the car we can rebuild: radiators, suspension components, uprights, differentials, axles — 

Amy: — We’ve got a car in a few boxes.

Gavin: True, true. Logistically, it’s a lot of work, and even right now up to the last minute, we’re still working on logistics trying to get everything finalized — not so much here, but down there [in New Zealand]. There are still a couple spare parts that we’re waiting to show up that we need to take with us.

It’s not that different in truth from going to a club race. The difference is the fact that you’ve gotta be prepared for a six-day event as opposed to a weekend, because you’re doing thousands of miles across the other side of the world. Have you expressed any interest in or followed the FIA developments of the World Rally Championship’s R-GT Cup, in which Tuthill Porsche is running a GT3 Cup?

Gavin: I’d say we have, because the first car that ran there — which was the Tuthill Porsche — we have a relationship with them because the suspension system that we use, which is called EXE-TC suspension, is the same as they use. Tuthills were actually involved in developing that for classic Porsches, and we were involved in developing it for modern Porsches. And this development has gone on over the last five years now. And so when we knew they were going to run in that event, I was very interested to follow them, and they’ve done very well. And they’ve gone through a lot of lengthy processes to get the car homologated for FIA rules. So I think it stands well for the future that maybe we’ll see more Porsches rallying, perhaps even with some factory support down the road — who knows. I don’t know that’s something we’re likely to be getting involved in, but I certainly would be very excited to go to events and watch and be a support person. Because I guess the one thing we can help on perhaps is the suspension and setup, because we do have a lot of experience in that area. And many of the teams that go down that road, that’s something that they’re gonna have to learn. Getting a Porsche to work on a rally stage is quite different to getting it to work going around a circuit. What advice would you give a Porsche enthusiast or PCA member who wants to try a targa rally with their Porsche?

Gavin: The first advice I would give them would be: Do it. Because I think that they will find it just a phenomenal experience. Sadly there’s not much of it in North America, as you know, but it’s still very popular in New Zealand and Australia, and obviously in Europe too. There are people like a driver [I know of] from Canada going down and competing, and other people from Canada, and there’s another guy in [the Targa New Zealand] from the US — although he’s not driving a Porsche, he’s driving a Corvette. But people that go and do it really do enjoy it.

Back in 2003, I think it was, I took a group of guys from here down to New Zealand. They were people who I was involved in racing with, and we did sort of a motorsport experience while we were down there — including some rallies — and we did a bunch of other things while we were there. But they all came back saying it was the most fun they’ve ever had and they wanted to go back and do it some more. So I think if you can get some Porsche people to try it, they will easily become addicted to it and they will love it. It’s much more like taking your Porsche up into the hills in North Carolina, where there’s no traffic on the road, and getting to drive it like it was meant to be driven, which was even more what it was designed for than driving it around a race track.

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