A Driving Enthusiast Fulfills a Targa Tarmac Rally Dream

Lotus Sports Cars At Targa High Country Tarmac Rally February 2021

Images & Story thanks to Paul D’Ambra / Lotus Cars Australia

Long time Club Lotus Australia member Robert Bryden recently made the leap into competitive tarmac rally classes, securing a podium place in GT Sports Trophy at Targa High Country. Lotus Cars Australia and Paul D’Ambra put together a brilliant story about Rob’s journey, and have kindly shared it with us here. Read on, and enjoy!

A Driving Enthusiast Fulfills a Targa Tarmac Rally Dream

After participating in six Targa rally events over the years, Robert Bryden and navigator Ian Noble have secured a maiden podium place in the competitive GT Sports Trophy class at Targa High Country Mount Buller.

Many driving enthusiasts have aspirations of attempting a tarmac rally event. Rob has carefully built up his driving experience in Targa rally events in recent years, starting in Tour then TSD classes to now achieving a close fought second place in their first attempt in the GT Sports Trophy class, driving their Lotus Exige Sport 410.

Lotus Sports Cars at Targa High Country February 2021 Robert Bryden in Mansfield

A Driving Enthusiast Who Loves Sports Cars

Rob has been a passionate driving enthusiast from the young age of six, having a 15 year older brother who introduced him to fast cars and driving early on. Over the years he has owned a number of unique vehicles including various models of Lotus sports cars, including a 1983 Esprit Turbo, Elan , Elan+2,  Lotus 7 Series 4 , Elise , Exige S1 , S2 and S3 plus a rare 340R. He had the only Lotus Exige Cup 380 in the Country, recently replaced by an Exige 410 and the only Lotus 311 here as well, striking in Kawasaki Green.

Not content with owning sports cars that sit in a garage, Rob actively participates in Lotus social drives, cars and coffee meets, casual track day events and club level motorsport activities like the Combined Sports Car Association (CSCA) super sprint series that is held in New South Wales as well as the Lotus Only Track Days arranged by Simply Sports Cars. Recently, Rob participated in a LOTD held the world famous Mount Panorama circuit

He isn’t a professional racing driver, but is a self-confessed car fan and driving enthusiast, aiming to enjoy his time behind the wheel and learn more skills along the way.

Lotus Sports Cars at Targa High Country February 2021 podium place finishers

Step 1 – Targa Tour, Perfect for First Timers

“I think I am like a lot of other drivers – you think some of these driving events are too hard to attempt or you have to be a professional. With a bit of research & the help of my Sydney Lotus dealership I could do it knowing they were there to help me along the way.”

In 2016, Rob decided to fulfil his dream of participating in a targa tarmac rally event. While many driving enthusiasts will initially consider advanced driver training or track day events as a way to fuel their driving passions, not too many will realise how accessible a targa tarmac rally event actually is. In fact, practically anyone can try their first rally event with a road registered vehicle and a Motorsport Australia license.

After doing his research, Rob decided to get a taste of what targa is all about by joining the Australian Lotus tour group at targa High Country in Victoria. targa Australia runs a number of tour groups as part of their tarmac rally event program and Lotus hosts an exclusive group that is available for owners of Exige, Elise and Evora sports cars.

Prior to learning about this opportunity to join the Lotus Tour, Rob was a little daunted by the thought of entering, but the ease brought about by joining the organised group made it simple.

There are three benefits of doing it this way;

  • Lotus Cars Australia handles all the logistics and provides guidance to each participant including what is required, how to go about it and more. This includes things like logistics, meals and accommodation. So you get step by step assistance
  • The team from the local Lotus dealerships are on hand during the rally event, at each stage, to provide any assistance needed during the rally. It means you essentially have mobile roadside assistance during the event
  • The Lotus Tour has a lead and chase car that is driven by Lotus staff so that there is never a risk of getting lost or not knowing where to go
  • The best part – you will be doing a tarmac targa rally with other driving enthusiasts in their Lotus sports cars.

The Lotus Tour travels on the same closed roads as the tarmac rally competition classes and is run as a spirited drive that is not timed, isn’t competitive and gives any targa first timer a taste of what doing a tarmac rally is all about. You can drive on the same tarmac rally targa stages but without any of the stress or pressure that you’d experience in the competitive classes.

Rob’s ultimate goal was to participate in the world famous Targa Tasmania tarmac rally, which is a six day event covering all parts of Tasmania. Targa High Country creates an opportunity to try a shorter three day tarmac rally event, which starts & ends each day at the same location. This makes logistics simple and is the perfect way for first timers to start out.

Lotus at Targa High Country

Photo credit: Paul

Step 2 – From Targa Tour to TSD Competition

“Once we had a taste of what Targa was about, we felt comfortable enough to try a more competitive class. Driving on closed roads in a tarmac rally is a unique experience. It’s not just about the driving, but doing an event with other driving enthusiasts is like nothing else.”

Rob thoroughly enjoyed his time doing the Targa Tours at High Country and Tasmania, so by 2018 decided to attempt his first competitive class in TSD Competition which stands for ‘’time, speed, distance’’. This is the first step from the tour classes where crews have to complete a stage distance within a given time & average speed. So, it is competitive, but also restricted in terms of outright speed and you don’t need a race car to compete.

Using his Lotus Exige 380 Cup in TSD was an ideal way to participate in targa competition without making the full commitment required to compete in the open classes. Rob and Ian participated in Targa Tasmania, Targa High Country and Targa Great Barrier Reef rally events in the TSD class with great success, achieving multiple top five positions at each of these events and second in the Australian Targa Championship.

By now the appetite was truly whet and thoughts turned to taking the next step into the GT Sports Trophy class and testing themselves.

Rob Bryden Targa GBR 2018 115 - TS09 - North Johnstone - SS

Step 3 – GT Sports Trophy Targa Competition Podium Placing

“Amazing, our first time in GT Sports Trophy and a podium, 16th outright, even a top 10 around the tight Mansfield stage in the Exige .

Simon and Deon were just really quick, Steve and Fergal gave us a huge run. Martin built up to some fastest times and the Taylors were right in there too.

We all had a massive amount of fun and great times out of the car with fabulous people. The usual superb organisation and support from the Australian Simply Sports Cars Lotus team who helped build up the car for Targa, I couldn’t have done it on my own.

Next stop … Rally Adelaide to continue my love of targa tarmac rally events having done Tasmania, High Country & Great Barrier Reef the last few years.”

Watch the Targa High Country TV Segment https://www.9now.com.au/targa-high-country

For 2021, Rob upgraded his vehicle to a Lotus Exige Sport 410 and made the decision with Ian to try their hand at GT Sports Trophy. This class requires a more measured commitment and is the stepping stone to the open competitive classes of GT2.

In GT Sports Trophy, the crews must not exceed a speed limit of 130km/h which, at first glance, doesn’t sound very fast but we are talking about tight and twisty roads around the Mount Buller hinterland. A mix of various types of bitumen, main or back country roads & forest-lined mountain passes are not for the faint hearted when driven at high speed.

With the assistance of Simply Sports Cars Lotus in Sydney, the team’s Lotus Exige 410 was prepared with all the necessary safety equipment including safety harnesses and driver and navigator communications as well as a safety roll cage.

They were ready and prepared to take the next step and attempt their first GT Sports Trophy targa rally event at High Country held around Mount Buller in Victoria.

Lotus Sports Cars At Targa High Country Tarmac Rally February 2021

Targa High Country – Day One

Raw sounds video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlfgImRofik

The opening day of competition at Targa High Country welcomed crews to very rainy and misty conditions at the top of Mount Buller. Even with border restrictions hampering event entries, there were more than 60 cars entered for the first targa event of the year.

By the end of the first leg, Robert & Ian were leading GT Sports Trophy with a narrow six second gap to second place with Trude & Morrison in their Exige Sport 410

“Day 1 being wet and misty was a huge challenge. We had no idea how we would go and had no expectations at all. The car was superbly set up by Simply Sports Cars and we just drove smoothly, linking turns and not throwing the car about. To our great suprise [ and I’m sure to the surprise of others ]  we ended up leading the field in our class against some very experienced competitors. Our time was even ahead of some of the Open class competitors!”

Rob Bryden Targa GBR

Targa High Country – Day Two

Day two was a lot kinder and conditions were much clearer for the day, which included some longer stages. Rob and Ian moved to second place behind Trude & Morrison, with another sub ten second gap separating the teams after a full day of rallying. They knew they had to keep an eye on the Sher and Murphy crew who were hot on their heels.

“I think in the drier conditions, we had less of an advantage with our smooth and gentler driving style than we did in the wet, although we did win one stage and were not far behind on the others – a second here and there. It was huge fun competing against former targa winning teams in our class and then having social dinners at night and ‘talking it up’ with lots of laughs together.’’

Lotus at Targa High Country

Photo credit: Paul

Targa High Country – Day Three

Day three was going to be the decider, with Lotus sports cars holding the top positions in GT Sports Trophy. The battle of the last stages would decide the final podium places and after some jostling, Rob and Ian finally passed Sher & Murphy late in the day, on the stage, to clinch their first ever podium position in GT Sports Trophy.

After three days of gruelling competition it was less than 30 seconds that separated the top three positions, all Lotus Exige sports cars.

“The final day, we knew we had to push it to hold onto a podium position and that we had a real chance of overtaking the car ahead. We went into it with a positive mindset while realising Targa is all about finishing – to balance pushing on hard , communicating between driver and navigator while not overdoing it. If you make an error on track , there’s a strong chance nothing untoward will happen. An error at targa is less forgiving so judgement and caution play a significant part in success.

We went really hard on the very long jamison stage [ 40 odd klm ] and caught time on the leader and actually caught and passed the car in third spot behind us. The fourth placed car went too hard and went off. This gave us a real chance on the last stage , the fabulous run through Mansfield township with the locals set up in their yards watching and cheering as the cars flew past.

We nailed the town stage and got the 2nd fastest time ever by a Lotus and a time that gave us 10th outright despite our 130kph maximum speed allowance. What a way to finish the event, ending up only 25 seconds behind our good friends Simon and Deon after 3 days competing.”

Mansfield Shire GT Sports Trophy 2021 Results

1st Simon Trude/Dion Morrison (2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport)
2nd Robert Bryden/Ian Noble (2020 Lotus Exige 410 Sport) +25s
3rd Steven Sher/Fergal Murphy (2016 Lotus Exige) +2:07s

Lotus Sports Cars At Targa High Country Tarmac Rally February 2021

From Targa High Country to Adelaide Rally

To continue the rally journey and build on his experience Rob decided to enter the Adelaide Rally & try this event for the first time with his son Alex. With the help of Simply Sports Cars Lotus they provided assistance to get the car over to Adelaide and prepared for the event.

The Adelaide Rally has been running for over 20 years. The 2021 competition was actually a postponed event from 2020 that had over three hundred participants! Rob entered the Modern Challenge class which is speed restricted (similar to GT Sports Trophy at Targa Australia.

Even more impressive was that Rob and Alex took the third step of the podium after a few days of healthy competition.

“After the fabulous Targa High Country, we participated in our first Adelaide Rally, where my son navigated for the first time. We had support at Rally Adelaide from the Simply Sports Cars technicians who flew down and looked after the Lotus entries – this made it so easy to participate. The Lotus competitors even enjoyed a meal out with the tech crew as well – a truly amazing connection with the SSC team which is unusual for a dealership.

The rally stages were much shorter and known well to the very quick locals drivers – the Exige was fantastic and took us to a number of stage wins and to another podium finish, 3rd in class and ahead of two rear engined GT3 cars. On the tighter stages, again we were able to beat many of the outright class cars including a Dodge Viper Extreme LHD race car and a GT3, despite our speed restriction.

This was a fantastic event held on the Adelaide hills, with the magnificent vineyards and tourist towns as backdrops. The local drivers and the Adelaide people were very welcoming and friendly and we ended up having dinner out most nights with other competitors and great food and of course the local wines. 

What a great time and to share the podium with your son and some newly made friends was fabulous. Once we get more experience in reading the roads and communication, I can see us moving to the Open 2WD GT class… we’re not quite ready at this early point of the learning curve.”

Modern Challenge 2021 Results

1st – #621 Gordon Christie and Nigel Mcgaffin (Volvo S60)
2nd – #627 Nathan Robbins/Alex Johnson (Audi S3)
3rd – #641 Robert Bryden and Alex Bryden (Lotus Exige)

How Can You Do a Targa Australia Rally Event?

Lotus Cars Australia make it very easy for any owner of an Elise, Exige or Evora sports car to participate in a Targa Australia tarmac rally event by hosting an official Lotus Tour Group. This is the first step for anyone wanting to see what a rally event is like. For more details, head to www.lotuscars.com.au.

Simply Sports Cars Lotus in Sydney provides support for driving crews who are interested in getting into the competitive classes like TSD, GT Sports Trophy or the open GT classes with either ground up vehicle builds, modifications to existing vehicles or their Targa GT spec rally car package. More details are available at www.simplysportscars.com.

Rob Bryden Targa GBR

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