Targa Tasmania is the ultimate tarmac rally, with the biggest collection of tarmac rally cars in the world ranging from little Fiats to Porsches. In April recently, the gutsy, vivacious Louise Paul, an artist from Perth, Western Australia, joined 96 other female navigators for Tasmania Targa’s 25th-anniversary event, setting a new Targa record! Go, girls! This being from a record 382-strong field. Louise is a self-proclaimed rev-head who loves the adrenalin rush she gets from high speeds, tight bends, and petrol fumes, which you might think would be the last thing on any professional artist’s wish list. But for Louise, it’s something she really looks forward to and feels good about, as it utilises her well-developed artistic intuition, preciseness, and focus, which exactly complements racing success.
In 2015, navigator Louise and her driver dad, Bob Fisher, came second place in the ‘Shannon’s Thoroughbred Trophy’ class of Targa Tasmania, which is remarkable considering it was Louise’s very first Targa! Louise knows that finishing the whole race is the hardest bit. This year, her Targa dream was sadly short-lived, when she and Bob had to withdraw at the close of the second day because of mechanical problems. However, as always, Louise remains philosophical about the challenges and rewards of racing, drawing parallels from it with her everyday life. Here, Louise shares what it’s like to race and the personal inspiration she gains from the sport.
I’m 46 – an artist, dental practice manager, step-mum, wife extraordinaire and friend. Firstly, you need to be fit to race because it’s a physically challenging sport. You need a lot of energy and strength. Your body takes a huge toll with all the movement and jolting, so before the event, I like to get really healthy and in shape. This year, the race started in Launceston on Monday 11 April and ran for six days, and it finished on Saturday in Hobart. It went all around the west side of Tasmania for about 2000 kilometres. It’s one race but there are stages throughout that are timed. There can be 50 stages! You do about six or seven, or even sometimes, nine stages a day. We have to move from one stage to another. The roads in between aren’t timed but you have to make it to the next stage by a specific time. You can’t stop off or diverge and take a shortcut – you have to stay on specific roads. What matters is getting to the next stage, and being fast.
I don’t drive. I navigate. My dad drives. My job is to read from my pace notes what the road is going to be like, without us seeing it first. In 2015, it was my first Targa and I’d never taken the course before. I really didn’t know what to expect. My job was to read my dad (the driver), the next corner, the dips, the speed, the whole lot – what we needed to be doing before we saw it while reading what we were doing in the now and to keep up with the pace notes. And as soon as you pass that ‘where we are at now’, you’re at the next stage of the notes. You don’t worry about what you’ve been through, you just focus on what’s happening now and what’s coming up. You have to be very, very focused. I’m constantly looking at the front screen and at my notes and explaining in really precise and intricate detail to my driver dad, who’s never driven that road before, what’s coming up. There’s a lot of trust between us. You can’t go off the notes otherwise, you could crash, and there are a lot of crashes. When racing we’re concentrating a million percent. After that stage is finished its relief, happiness, and comradery – it’s exciting!
We usually wake up at three or four in the morning. Because we’re in a fairly slow car, we’re one of the first ones to start, so that we don’t hold up the other cars. We’re in a racing green Triumph TR4a and she was born in 1967, so she’s nearly a 50-year-old car. Keeping her on the road, and racing her all the way around Tasmania is a bit of a challenge. Tasmanian roads are really narrow and windy; there are cliffs, U-turns, and black ice on the road. We’re racing by 7 am and often we’re not back until seven or eight at night – sometimes 9 pm. It’s driving all day. It requires stamina and focus. They block off the roads for the race until the race goes by – you’re on the regular road. The cars range from our ‘little old girl’ through to Maseratis. We don’t race against Maseratis, we race with them. But there will be a Maserati behind us sometimes; it’s caught up to us because we’re slow. We let them pass. And we pass other cars.
Our car’s very small and we have these big helmets on – it’s like sitting with a bucket on your head! We wear helmets which have microphones and so I’m connected to dad through the microphone. It’s sound cancelling in a way. You can still hear outside but you hear each other’s voices really clearly and that improves focus. Our car is also pretty loud. There’s a lot of squealing and clunking – petrol fumes and oil. It’s hot. The suits we wear are fireproof, and we are done up like a Christmas tree with seatbelts – it’s confining. You’re strapped in really tight. It’s not pretty. And after wearing that suit for six days … I go through a fair bit of deodorant!
The old girl we’re in can only go to 130kph. Now that dad’s getting a little bit older, he’s happy with that. I’m happy with that. Dad’s 67. Mum’s happy with that also. Dad’s been racing for some 30 odd years. My little brother used to drive with dad, and he’s had other co-drivers also. One day I said, “If you ever want me to hop in the seat, I’m there.” And dad said – “Really?” And then he called me up a couple of weeks later and said, “Were you serious?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” Dad loves racing! He loves me being his navigator. I pick up everything. I don’t get dizzy or car sick. We make a great team and I wouldn’t race with anyone else. And, so, basically, when I started at the Targa Tasmania last year, I was green and excited, and we came second in our class! We’ve been on the podium twice now with the champagne showers. I’ve done Targa West, and I’ve done rally sprints once a month at Kwinana Raceway.
Racing is a challenge and I like a challenge. It’s a team sport. You have your roadies with you, following you around. It’s engaging because it’s like a puzzle with little tricks along the way. You’ve got to make it to the next petrol station because you don’t carry your own fuel, so you’ve got to gauge how much petrol you’ve got left. You have to fix your car by yourself when you’re on the course because you can only have a mechanic between stages. You’re doing very high speeds around tight corners with rocks, trees, kangaroos, so every race we’ll have breakdowns. Luckily dad usually knows what to do to fix it. It’s the unforeseen things like that, that I love, that you need to deal with there and then.
For me, personally, I’ve gained so much for doing these races – I especially like being with my dad. My husband, Chris and I, we’ve been through extreme stress in recent years, not with our relationship, but external pressures to do with his health and our business, and it’s ongoing, and racing is a release from this, as my art practice is. When I step into that car I am fully focused and I don’t think about all those external pressures. From when that clock goes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – go! you make a decision to be present and not to worry about other things niggling at your mind. Then after completing a race, you feel such an achievement – we did that! You don’t worry about the aches and pains you get from a car that doesn’t have any suspension.
There was a time we were travelling through whisky country, after going through all the wooded areas. It was an open drive across the coast, and we were in this tiny little car, my dad and myself, and we just felt alone in this world, as we were just driving, not racing, to the next stage, and I was feeling this is pretty awesome. We’d just done a hard stage and we’d made it. It was a great analogy for life – persisting with things and getting through it together. Life throws wild curveballs and you never know what’s coming. The thing is to not get freaked out by what’s been thrown at you. It’s about how can you solve this in the best way possible, and laugh about it afterward. It’s about not getting too far ahead of yourself, but dealing with what’s immediate, and working with your mate to solve a problem.
At home, every morning I sit with my dogs in my garden amongst the trees and get in touch with myself. This is my sacred space. I don’t follow a church or religion but I do believe in the greater being, infinite and loving. Strong. Supportive. To have a trust in life, you need to have a trust in yourself. Be it in life or in the car, challenges happen for a reason and you can either run and cower and be in fear, or you can be open and embrace it. Sometimes it can be pretty tricky. In my personal life, there’s been a lot of fear, with what Chris and I have been going through, and anger, but I’ve learned to let go of it, and to trust in it’s going to be ok, on some level. I’ve learned how to be optimistic through loss and challenge. My mango tree has about a hundred mangos on it at the moment and I’m reminded of what abundance and beauty there is in the world, and I’m so grateful. I am always grateful for life, good and bad.
Thanks, Louise. I got so much from that. I can sincerely say, I have a newfound appreciation for rallying. My friend Louise has got guts and a contagious laugh, and a zest for life which is inspiring. We can all take something from her approach in handling life’s curveballs. What do you think? Is the racing life for you?