Honestly, our team – Team Korean War Machine – had low (to no) hopes going into the Los Angeles leg of the 2009 Targa Trophy. Sixty cars were entered and even though our Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 was packing 306 horsepower, most of the other cars were in the 500-horse range – *gulp.* But first, a little history before we begin.
The Targa Trophy rally started in 2007 with about 70 cars running from San Diego to Palm Springs and back. The idea, according to founder and principle Jason Overell, was to create a "One day format that offered all of the event amenities of other rallies [Bullrun, Gumball 3000], but with more of a focus on real driving scenarios that would test the cars capability, the drivers skill and really utilize the [presence] of a navigator."
The rally expanded to two events in 2008 and we would be participating in the final leg of what they're calling the Southern California Triple Crown – the last of three 2009 rallies. Not only would there be seven winners from the day's event, but three overall 2009 Targa Trophy Triple Crown winners would be, well, crowned.
All any of us on Team Korean War Machine knew is that Fiesta Agent and former Jalopniker Andy Didorosi had arranged for myself, Nada Guides' Road Test Editor Jeff Glucker, and all around car freak Tim "Mad Science" Odell to run the Genesis Coupe alongside his feisty green Ford Fiesta (a special case exception to the usual "hand-selected" entries that are allowed to participate "based on their level of sports car credibility" – a Smart Car also joined in on the fun) in the Los Angeles portion of the three-part event. As a team, we had no planning, no strategy and really no conception of what was going to be happening on this hot, Southern California Saturday. Worse, none of us had spiky hair gel and/or flat-brimmed ball caps. And our morning really wasn't going very well.
AMG showed up at the Roosevelt Hotel to let the Targa Trophy runners play with their latest big V8 toys. And while I enjoyed my ten minutes in the new, faster-than-words E63 AMG very much, Odell enjoyed himself a little too much in the C63, getting pulled over on Hollywood and Highland. After a little explaining, the officers took pity on poor Tim and wrote out a ticket with a figure considerably less than what the radar registered. It wasn't a lose your license offense, just a lose your savings and the respect of your wife infraction. Meanwhile, I managed to back the Hyundai up into the only other press vehicle in attendance – a Porsche 997 S Cabriolet – scratching the hell out of the Genesis' paint in the process. Glucker, not content to just rest in peace, spilled coffee all over his pants. And the rally wasn't even set to start for another twenty minutes...
[Photos: Tim Odell & Ryan Siu]
After the driver's meeting (where my one-mph parking lot accident was announced and laughed at), we were all queued up to leave, meaning I was stuffed into the tight back seat of the Genesis Coupe. Just before exiting the parking lot, a Targa Trophy official walked up and asked if one of us would hop into a Ferrari F430. Seems that the navigator had a bit too much to drink the night before and couldn't be roused from his suite. Would I abandon my teammates before the race had even begun just to ride in some exotic Fezza? You bet your ass I would. A few seconds later I found myself belted into an F430 next to a man named Ramaz, blasting up the I-5.
In fact, we saw a fellow Targa rally car – a matte gray CL63 AMG – pulled over on the side on the freeway. "That's my buddy" Ramaz told me as we hustled past. "That sucks." I go on to tell him about Mad Science's earlier ticket. "He's lucky they didn't take his license." Then Ramaz's phone rings. Turns out his buddy in the CL63 got clocked at 120 mph. "They could take his license," I said while remembering a friend from college who lost his license for going 15 miles per hour slower on the same stretch of road. "I'm not worried," said Ramaz. "He has diplomatic immunity." Must be nice.
"I've never been up this far," Ramaz commented as we approached the bottom of the Grapevine. "Really," I said, having been up this way countless dozens of times before. "You never go to San Francisco?" I asked. "Sure," said Ramaz. "Many times. But I fly." As you'd expect, this event takes all types. Before too terribly long, we found ourselves in Fraiser Park, taking the absolutely glorious Highway 33 towards Ojai. In front of us was a white Subaru STI driven by a cop and behind us was a blue Audi RS4 with Truck Nutz hanging off the back bumper.
The STI's pace was good, allowing the Ferrari to sort of limp its way down the road at a speed that both Ramaz as driver and me as passenger found reassuring. Trouble was, the RS4 was up our tailpipe and Highway 33 is mostly double yellow. "I'd think the best car to run this in would be an R8," said Ramaz as the Audi's giant grille filled out all three mirrors. I was in the process of explaining how in fact the RS4 would be my choice, and is on my short list of cars I need to own, when we got to the whoop dee doos – huge stretches of undulating pavement where the elevation rises and falls as much as 50 feet in as short a distance.
Ramaz hit the brakes hollering, "I'm going to bottom out!" It was right around here that the RS4 made its move. Totally unfazed by the giant, fast rolling hills and valleys, it sped off ahead of us. We found out later that this is where they lost their Truck Nutz. The STI team also decided to take advantage of their Subie's natural ability to tackle crazy tarmac and opened up quite a large gap on the F430. No worries really, as the rally stage was laid out by a Porsche 997 Turbo and our goal was to not only emulate its mileage but also its pace. I have my doubts as to whether or not the Turbo would have performed the same bat-out-of-hell antics of the Audi and the Subaru, because supposedly it had obeyed all speed limits. Though, who knows?
Thirty miles later, we found ourselves in a pack of other supercars including a Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia, one of the half-a-dozen E39 M5s, a Porsche 997 Turbo and at least one Lamborghini Gallardo all jammed up behind a beautiful black Aston Martin DB9. It was at this point that I first learned one of the truths of the Targa Trophy: just because an entrant can afford a multi-hundred thousand dollar supercar, doesn't necessarily mean they can drive it. Especially on the twisty stuff.
I was lucky in that Ramaz was not only a decent driver, but more importantly, one who knew his own limitations. On the San Diego stage of the Targa Trophy, a Porsche Carrera GT had managed to get into a solo accident. Result: totaled. That's no fun. And the roads on the Los Angeles leg were much, much hairier. I overheard some drivers acting shocked and almost complaining about how technical the roads were. Not Ramaz. He and I were having fun. We eventually passed the DB9, got some gas and met up with the rest of the pack for lunch at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The plan was to stick Tim in the Ferrari for the return portion, but Ramaz decided to head back early to catch a boxing match. So the 6'3" Glucker had to fold himself up into the back of the Genesis Coupe. As Nelson Muntz would no doubt say: "Ha ha!"
Now it was my turn to pilot the Hyundai, a car I had only driven once and managed to crash. For his part, Glucker had driven a fast stint (as we'd find out later), but I was determined to push a little harder. Three hours at half-speed in a mid-engine Ferrari tends to do that to a person. The Hyundai proved surprisingly capable, both in a straight line and in the curves. At one point, we found ourselves pulling dead even with a BMW E39 M5 under full acceleration. Let me repeat that: dead even with an E39 M5 in a straight line. We're still trying to wrap our heads around it.
But then we got to my roads. The last stretch of the Targa Trophy wound its way through Ventura County and Malibu Canyon, where I'd grown up and learned to drive. Of particular note was the fact that we'd be going over Decker Canyon, my personal favorite and former holder of the title: Most Dangerous Road in California. It was a bit of an unfair advantage, as I've been going up and over Decker for more than 30 years and could almost run it blindfolded. Almost. Not to brag, but I'll brag anyhow – we got around a Gallardo, a F430 Spyder, a E39 M5, a E60 M5 and a E92 M3 before getting stuck behind a highly modded 335i and a SL65. I say stuck because there was just no way to safely get around them. But, if we'd felt like it, the Hyundai could have out-braked (and out cajonied) both cars for the pass.
Decker dumps out onto Pacific Coast Highway and I decided that we had to get in front of the slower cars before we got on Latigo Canyon, another jaw-droppingly stunning strip of Malibu Canyon asphalt. We got ahead of the 335i (but not before it laid down 50 of the most beautiful yards of rubber you've ever seen) and the SL65, as well as a couple other Targa cars, and then just flat out hooned it all the way up Latigo Canyon and onto the fun part of Mulholland drive near the Rock Store. We opened up a lead so big that even though we stopped for gas, the other cars never caught up.
Micro Review: At least for this duty, the Genesis Coupe is in need of better tires, a serious shifter (it's way too easy and commonplace to miss shifts, especially going down into second) and firmer suspension. Disappointingly, our car was equipped with Hyundai's optional Track Pack. Still, all those faults are easy rectified in the aftermarket. But that's being a bit nit picky. Let's just say that Team Korean War Machine was very impressed with our ride. We'll go far as to say that the Genesis Coupe is a serious driver's car. I mean, can your Korean car outpace half a dozen Euro super exotics?
Back at the awards dinner, we (still) had no idea what to expect. We all felt the Hyundai had been driven well (and maybe within an inch of its life), but we did manage to get lost – a lot. We also spent a great deal of the day stuck behind slow semi trucks and Ferraris that decided to just sandbag it. Though, in our defense, the route map itself had been redone last minute due to the fires and was a tad... lacking. Our teammates in the Fiesta had managed to come in just 0.4 miles off the distance and were quite pleased with themselves. But remember, a rally is both distance and time, so we'd soon see.
It turns out that in some ways, the Targa Trophy is like a bizzaro version of the 24 Hours of LeMons. One of the more coveted prizes in LeMons is the Heroic Fix award, which generally involves a team performing an all-night engine swap until 7:00 in the morning, passing out for an hour, and then finishing the race. One Targa trophy team had managed to open up the F1-style gearbox of their F430, spilling $100 per quart transmission fluid all over the place (the only mechanical problem on the day, we should point out). Rather than giving up, one of them stayed behind to wait for the flatbed while the other hitchhiked into town in a Camry filled with, "Toothless chain smokers" to a Hertz store and rented a Corvette. Then they finished the race in the 'Vette. You have to understand that not only was this probably the first time either team member had ever sat in an American car, but they wouldn't even let their maids drive something as downmarket as a Camry. Best of all, they've got a great war story.
Cutting to the chase, when it was announced that Team Korean War Machine had taken sixth place for the day, we were shocked. The three of us looked at each other in disbelief. Then Glucker, Odell and myself jumped to our feet, arms raised and began yelling, "Hyundai!" at the top of our lungs. We were like the Clampetts, upstaging most of the teams' exotics in our run-of-the-mill Korean pony car. I realized that with the exception of my pants and underwear, all the other clothing I had on had been given to me -- much of it at other car events. And not nice events like the Targa Trophy. Meanwhile, more than half the audience was wearing $1,900 jeans. As we breathlessly took hold of our trophy, someone in the crowd yelled out, "that Hyundai was fast!" Damn straight it was. Didorosi and the Fiesta gang managed to snag a respectable 14th place and the winning team was none other than Malcolm Medina and his blue, formerly Truck Nutz-festooned Audi RS4. Medina and his mighty Audi also won the Targa Tophy's Triple Crown, racking up the most points for the 2009 season. See, Ramaz, I told you the RS4 is the car you want.
[Images: Tim Odell & Ryan Siu]
2009 Targa Trophy Los Angeles Winners:
1st Place: Malcolm Medina – Audi RS4
2nd Place: Valli Khan – Porche Cayanne Transsyberia
3rd Place: Adam Roth – Audi R8
4th Place: Josh Conely – BMW M5
5th Place: Elliott Grossman – BMW M5
6th Place Korean War Machine – Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8
7th Place: Wick Zimmerman – BMW M5
2009 Targa Trophy Triple Crown Winners
1st Place: Malcolm Medina – RS4
2nd Place: Elliott Grossman BMW M5/Nissan GTR
3rd Place: Joe Callian – Subaru WRX STI
For information on participating in the 2010 Targa Trophy, click here