For the fourth consecutive year, the Targa Trophy lifestyle road rally gathered 70-plus vehicles and took them on a driving adventure through Southern California. The W in Hollywood created the perfect setting to kick off the rally, with a collection of supercars and exotics anxiously waiting to trade the modern hotel's parking lot for the open highway.
The Targa Trophy is not your average road trip, and this being my first road rally, I didn't really know what to expect. I prepared as best as possible; I armed myself with my trusty Blackberry, TomTom, Macbook Pro with aircard, and of course, a few cold NOS Energy Drinks to keep me awake and focused for the long drive ahead.
This overall goal of this time/distance/speed road rally is to travel a correct route at the correct speeds. It is not so much a race as a driving challenge that requires a driver and navigator to most efficiently reach multiple checkpoints on their way to a final destination. With these rules in place, it made sense to take a vehicle that would feature good gas mileage, be comfortable (with over 7 hours of driving), be inconspicuous to avoid any unnecessary legal attention, and be fun to drive. So, the choice was made to field a stock Lexus IS 350.
Upon leaving the starting line festivities, our car number, mileage, and starting time were accounted for by the staff and my navigator and I were handed the Navigation Leg checkpoint list. Immediately, we made our way onto the freeway and battled side by side with a few of the other cars. Although we had one of the comparatively slower cars (compared to tuned GT-Rs, Lambos, Bentleys, and the like), we did have one major advantage for the first half of the rally: our knowledge of the SoCal area, which made it possible to efficiently reach each checkpoint, where we made our necessary purchase and obtained receipts for proof, making the first half of the rally feel like The Amazing Race.
Latter portions of the drive took us south along the gorgeous California coast, showcasing amazing scenery en route to the half-way checkpoint in Newport Beach. We were one of the first cars to reach this location, and the thought occurred that we really have a chance to be competitive in this event.
After a quick lunch it was back on the road where we were given a road book for the Driving Leg portion of the rally, which included specific directions to follow with the goal of staying on course in both time and mileage. This gave our Lexus IS 350 an advantage against the supercars-we just needed to be as accurate as possible through the deserted back roads and mountain passes, rather than the fastest. The drive was both gorgeous and challenging, as there were many elevation changes filled with twists and turns through the course. After reaching both checkpoints in the small historic town of Julian, we made our way to the W in San Diego to end the rally. A group of drivers congregated in the hotel lobby for cocktails and shared their new experiences with each other, displaying the type of camaraderie that the Targa Trophy was able to bring out in its participants.
Overall, the event was a fantastic experience and we finished in 34th place, putting us in the middle of our field. We were actually taxed points for reaching the midway checkpoint too quickly (see, it's not a race)-something we don't understand enough to contest, we'll just say.
The second event of the Triple Crown Series will be the Bay Area Rally, and this time we're ready to take a Top 10 finish away from the exotics and supercars with the help of the Import Tuner project Lexus IS F.