Targa Tasmania 2017 will be a special one for eight-time winners Jim Richards and Barry Oliver.
This year will be the motorsport legends’ 25th Targa Tasmania together and, incredibly, their 75th tarmac rally as a team.
Richards (69) and Oliver (72) started their Targa legacy back in 1993 with a second place, driving a Porsche 968 Clubsport, and followed that up with a fourth and second placings in 1994 and 1995.
But it was in 1996 that their complete domination of the marathon event began. Driving a Porsche 911 Turbo, their first victory in Targa Tasmania was the first of three in succession (1996 – 1998), and then an incredible four in succession, from 2000 to 2003.
Only work commitments in 1999 put an end to the streak, when the duo was only able to contest one day of the event.
Their winning run wasn’t finished, however. Third place in 2004 and 2005 was followed by a record-breaking eighth Targa Tasmania victory in 2006, still at the wheel of a Porsche, but this time in a GT2.
It’s an incredible record that is unlikely to ever be beaten.
Over their 74 tarmac rallies to date – all in Porsches – they have finished on the podium on 43 occasions, including 21 outright wins, four Showroom class wins, 12 second places, and 10 thirds. Only eight times has the Richards/Oliver combination failed to finish an event.
“To be honest, I haven’t given too much thought to it being our 25th Targa,” Richards said.
“It sort of creeps up on you. You just go from one event to the next and before you know it the numbers stack up.
“We’re pretty relaxed about it all really. Barry does his job and I do mine as good as I can. We’re pretty much best friends and enjoy each other’s company during events.
“It’s not just about the competition, but about having a nice meal at the end of each day and catching up with other friends along the way.
“We both have our wives with us on the event, and it’s a great week and a half away.”
For most drivers, a record of eight Targa Tasmania wins would be impressive enough on a resume, but for Jim Richards, it’s only the beginning.
Add to that list seven Bathurst 1000 victories, four Australian Touring Car Championship titles, four Nations Cup championships, five Grand Prix Rally wins and Touring Car Masters titles in 2010 and 2013 (as well as a host of other victories), and it’s not hard to see that the New Zealand-born Victorian is a living legend of Australian motorsport.
Quite rightly, Richards was inducted into the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“The fact that we’ve won Targa Tasmania eight times is a nice record to have, but we’re not trying to win the event outright anymore,” Richards said.
“We don’t press on as hard as we once did. It’s now much more about driving a nice car, looking after our sponsors and enjoying the experience.
“If we manage to finish in the top half dozen at the end of the event, then that’s a great result.”
The good news for Targa Tasmania fans is that neither Richards nor Oliver show any signs of slowing down.
This year they’ll contest the six-day epic in a brand new 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and you’d be a brave person to bet against the wily combination taking yet another victory in the two-wheel drive GT2 competition.
“We’ll compare our stage times to last year, and if we’re faster, then that’s great. It means we’re enjoying it and having fun.
“We know the weather can play some tricks in Targa, but you just have to get out of bed each morning and drive to whatever conditions you’re dealt.
“That’s part of the fun of Targa, and certainly one of the things that makes it so tough,” he said.
Featuring 35 stages, Targa Tasmania gets underway this Monday, April 24 and runs for six days, finishing on the Hobart waterfront at PW1 at lunchtime on Saturday, April 29.
- Peter Whitten