2019 Targa NZ Tour - Toyota GR Supra
We join the Targa Tour driving Toyota’s new Supra. It’s a great way to see the countryside
It wasn’t too long ago that an invite from Toyota to join them on the Targa NZ Tour would have been an odd one. There wasn’t much in the Toyota line-up that you’d really want to take on such an event. A rear-drive V6 Hilux maybe? It was this lack of flavour at Toyota that spurred supreme leader, Akio Toyoda, into action, first ordering the 86, and then Supra. And so in 2019, the invitation to drive said Supra again was gladly accepted.
The Targa Tour, for those not familiar, allows mere mortals to pedal their regular road cars through the same special stages as the main Targa Rally event. The Tour group follows in behind the racers, and it attracts a range of road cars and people looking to stretch their vehicles further than what is allowed legally, while getting to use all of the road when doing so.
The Tour is fairly well structured, with participants kept in check by a lead car and a speed limit. Yes, in this H&S-mad era, even these events are speed capped. There are now two official designations, those in the Limited Tour group restricted to 130km/h, while in the Open class you can hit 160km/h.
We joined the Tour for a day, starting out from New Plymouth and took the first leg. This was a fast and flowing route that the Supra felt very comfortable with at the 130km/h limit, especially with both sides of the road to enjoy. With a GPS tracker on board relaying speed, and fines in place for breaking the prescribed maximum, we took the sane approach and used the Supra’s speed limiter. And this it ran into numerous times, just as it felt like it was getting into its stride.
There wasn’t much to trouble the Supra on this particular stretch, though others didn’t have it so easy. We rounded one corner, a tricky right hander that looked innocuous enough on the approach but a double caution in the ‘pace notes’ suggested it was best to take it easy. Sure enough, it tightened quickly and the black marks on the road suggested a few of the competition cars had been troubled by it. The Supra handled it smoothly, and accelerating out of the bend and along the straight, we glanced in the rear view mirror to catch a glimpse of an old Jaguar XJR behind us going straight on at the bend, disappearing down the bank.
It was about as much excitement as we had on the day, unfortunately, for we drew the short straw, so to speak. The four stages were split between two drivers attending that day. We got the first stint and were to drive the fourth, the run out from the weird and wonderful Whangamomona back to Stratford along SH43, aka the Forgotten Highway. But just a few kays into this stage, the run was over as officials had spotted a wayward school bus on the prescribed route. Safety prevailed and everyone had to tour back as if it was an open road. ‘That’s motorsport’ they kept saying afterwards, so there’s not much of a story to spin here unfortunately.
But we did witness some drama, this time as a passenger in an official car, sweeping the stage after the competition cars to check on the course. We came across a pairing that looked utterly bewildered, staggering about in a state of shell shock, a swell of emotions on each of their faces. “Are you guys ok?” the course clerk asked. “Arr, yeah. The car’s fair f*%^#d though, it’s 50m down the bank.”
That’s motorsport for you, one second it’s all going well, the next, you’re donald ducked. And you’ve got a fence repair to pay for, the salt in the wound.
We did manage a wee blast in the Supra again later in the day once the event had concluded. Toyota, sensing a touch of disappointment, threw us the keys and said see you back here later. There were a couple of trails up and around Taranaki that provided the chance to revisit the charms of the Supra that we encountered during our road test earlier in the year.
The road to Pukeiti is a tight goat path, with just enough sighted bends to have some fun, and plenty of tight corner exits to test the traction. Here’s where the Supra shines. It’s compact enough to feel wieldy on such a road where a big, wide super sportster would be struggling. And it’s not crazy fast in that you can still stretch the rev band without going bananas. Tight paths shine a light on its nimble chassis; this does turn quickly and precisely, with a good balance to help resist pushing up front. And when it does, if you can manage to get the gas on at the right time, it’ll help rotate the rear and negate the push.
Though wet under the treads, it hooked up well out of the turns. The traction control helps manage any careless throttle applications, or when you encounter that pesky bump on the corner exit which can upset the flow. There are just two settings for the dampers, Normal and Sport. The latter isn’t overly firm but you do notice the bumps, occasionally jostling the Supra about.
An easily accessed damper button is something the Supra could do with, so you could switch them ‘on and off’ to suit while keeping the powertrain in Sport mode. The six punches well, swinging from 3000rpm and slugs through to almost 7000rpm, while the eight-speed auto does well to keep it spinning in the zone. While it’s not the sharpest on the downshifts, it’s quick enough.
When touring along, you notice the tyre noise is a constant, and that the seat is perhaps lacking in padding. But otherwise we reckon this is pretty good value in the realm of sports cars.
If you think the Targa Tour is a bit of you, it pays to get in smartly. Early bird registration for this year’s event was $3990, but leave it until close off time and that cost rises to $4990. There are other expenses involved too; lodgings, and whatever you and your car might consume along the way.
If you have an off, not only is that you done for the event, you’ll have to pay for recovery and repair of any fences or property damaged. So best to heed the warnings of your co-driver. The event also relies on the support of the locals, so at each stop someone will come shaking a bucket your way for a donation. The Tour is also associated with the Race 4 Life charity which aims to fulfill the wishes of palliative care patients.
The Tour participants give generously during the event, and driver briefings turn into driver fleecings as the day’s indiscretions result in fines paid to the charity. All good fun though, as is the Supra.
Model Toyota GR Supra Price $99,990
Engine 2998cc, IL6, T/DI, 250kW/500Nm
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Vitals 4.41sec 0-100km/h, 7.7L/100km, 177g/km, 1516kg