The Targa High Country Experience

For me, the thing that appeals about going to an event like Targa High Country isn’t just the cars and the event itself. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships, visiting new places, doing new things and generally living life away from the daily grind for a few days. And the fact that its a rally event makes it even better – by it’s nature rally forces you to get out into the countryside, drive down new roads and do things like visit new little cafes for lunch. I love circuit racing too, but being stuck at that same circuit just doesn’t quite hold the same sense of adventure.

So, when Claire Ryan and Sammy Stevens kindly and graciously offered me the chance to ride along with their team for this event, I took it with both hands. This post is a small account of what went down that weekend.

After visiting Climb to the Eagle in Adelaide, I hopped a flight to Sydney where I met up with Dan. After another flight to Albury we picked up our rental and roadtripped it for a few hours down to Mansfield which is located in the High Country region of Victoria.

I’m not going to lie, our little Barina renter was pretty awful. I mean it was quiet when you weren’t accelerating, and did drive. But that was about all. I’m not sure here if Dan is expressing disgust at how terrible the windscreen washers are or just disgust at the Barina in general.

The redline is there for purely cosmetic reasons – no matter how hard we tried the auto trans would always shift up about 300rpm before the suggested 6500 maximum.

But the little Barina got us to Mansfield just in time for dinner, which we enjoyed while watching the sun set over this picturesque country town. Our flight schedule meant that we had unfortunately missed the town prologue, but we were still able to enjoy the cars parked on display.

Where do you even go to find rims in 3 stud? Wow, and I think finding 4×98 for Fiat’s and Alfa’s is hard.

After dinner we headed back to our accommodation which was a Chalet in the Mt Buller Ski resort. The blowflies were so slow that you could actually stab them with the end of a bread knife.

I’ve never been to the snow at Mt Buller, but it was quite surreal to see the place overrun with rally cars. It was like this little rally society – there are obviously no through roads up here, just the one road in/out and a few little connecting laneways that link the Chalets. Each Chalet had a rally car parked out the front, with a few service vehicles dotted around the place. No matter where you walked or where you went, all you saw were rally cars…

Coming home from the pub and seeing a C7 ZO6, a GT2 and an R35 GTR parked on the side of the road? No biggie.

Shooting this event is tricky because there aren’t many connecting roads in the area that aren’t actually closed for the rally, so getting around is very difficult. The first stage of each morning starts about half way down the Mt Buller road, and runs down to the end of it in the little village of Murimbah. The last stage of each day runs up the Mt Buller road again, this time starting in Murimbah and actually finishing right in the middle of the Mt Buller village. This means that the only road out and in is closed from 730-1130am and 130-430pm each day. And to make matters worse there are hardly any intersections or junctions in the closed roads, so if you want to see the cars at speed you’ve gotta be in before the road closes and can’t leave until it opens again.

Because I didn’t know the area that well I chose to stay on the Mt Buller road and find a good spot for the morning run down, go and have some lunch, and then find another spot for the afternoon run up. Consensus around was that it was pretty difficult to do more than 2 stages in a day anyway, so I figured I might as well stick with 2 and have a relaxing time. The above photo was taken at about 8am on Saturday morning – some locals dug a hole to light a fire and cook some sausages, enjoyed with the obligatory tinnies. Winning.

I just didn’t really feel it at this location, as the broken sunlight made it quite challenging for me. But then again the whole road was like that, so what do you do.

The trusty Barina was an absolute gun up the sinuous Mt Buller road. It was a bit of a hoot driving up and down the road in between road closures trying to find a new good photo spot, despite my wheels.

I picked a hairpin bend that looked like it could be an interesting spot. It was challenging trying to find the right angle because the country was so mountainous and very hard to navigate. These shots were taken perched on the edge of the road embankment, waterfall flowing beneath me, cars whizzing around me from right to left above.

The defined Saturday afternoon service park was the entire Mt Buller ski village. As you can imagine there isn’t a lot of flat space around, so teams jostled to find a spot flat enough to jack a car. Driveways of chalets, the side of the road, intersections, the top of the ski lift. It was all fair game. The atmosphere was electric as crews serviced their cars, drivers matched times against each other, co-drivers made revisions to the next days pacenotes and onlookers relaxedly sipped beers. 

Jokes were had.

After the most amazing Saturday night bowl of spaghetti bolognese with chorizo cooked by Claire, the next morning I rose early and hit up SS9, the morning run down from the ski village. This stage caught a lot of people out and was the perfect reason why you should always carefully read the supp regs for every event when you’re competing. This stage on Saturday had an easily achievable base time to ease competitors into the event, but the base time was significantly harder to achieve on Sunday. A lot of competitors, including some fairly big names, were not aware of this and didn’t actually clear the stage.

I swear this photo practically took itself.

I had a couple of hours to kill until the return run, which was when I noticed that I was actually only 40km from Bonnie Doon. Yes, the actual Bonnie Doon used in The Castle.

Ah the serenity! To find the house, follow any map to Bonnie Doon. If you’re coming from Melbourne, drive through the township and take the road on the right just before you cross the bridge over Bonnie Doon lake. If you’re coming from Mansfield, follow the main road and drive over the lake bridge – turn left as soon as you hit land again. This road runs around the lake perimiter. Follow it for around a k or so until you see the first of the shacks on your right. The Castle house is the first shack on the road, next to the big grassy paddock. And the power lines.

And it’s actually for sale too!

But back to rally. For the final stage of the event I found myself a nice little corner about a kilometre from the finish line.

Of course I had to be in before road closure which left me with about an hour’s time. I managed to find this little hut on the outside of the corner, and what’s more it was even unlocked. It had a bench and a stool, so I set myself up to edit some photos.

This poor blowfly had the misfortune to fly into this cobweb. I watched intently as it became stuck, and then the spider bit it and injected it with it’s poisonous venom. The buzzing slowly subsided, and the spider had a nice little afternoon snack.

This corner turned out to be the best one I found all weekend. From the odd sideways 308GTB…

… to the inside wheel lifting antics of every second car, this corner really turned it on.

And then I missed THE shot of the weekend. More about that little error to come.

The event had been run and won, and it was time for a few of these. And a few more. It was the most incredible experience, sitting back and chilling with good friends over a few beers as priceless rally cars drove through the crowds.

See, beer and photography does mix! Now it’s worth pointing out that by the time this photo was taken the presentations were long finished. He parked the 911 out the front of the pub and came in for some beers. Winning.

Ordinarily if you saw some dude drinking champagne from the bottle you’d call him a wino, but not on this particular evening.

And the winningest photo, of, well ever. This particular scene is so awesome in my opinion that the story behind it deserves it’s own post which is soon to come.

The next morning, heads a little hazy, we piled into our transport back to Melbourne – a Mini Cooper S which was kindly on loan from BMW Australia’s press fleet. I quickly fell in love with this little go-kart, and will write my experiences in it soon.

And of course it wouldn’t be a proper event without a party tape from Claire and Sammy. Some of my photo’s made it into the tape, and I may just make an appearance at 2.02. Geez, it seemed like a good idea at the time….

I extend my sincerest thanks to Sammy, Claire, Dan, Brook, Sam and everyone else who made it such a fantastic weekend away. Here’s to next year!

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