Targa Tasmania is the ultimate tarmac rally with the biggest collection of tarmac rally cars in the world ranging from little Fiats to powerful Porsches…
In April, Louise Paul, an artist from Perth, Western Australia, joined 96 female navigators for Tasmania Targa’s 25th anniversary setting a new Targa record 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 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 intuition, preciseness, and focus, resulting in 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, as it was Louise’s first Targa!
Louise knows finishing the race is the hardest part. This year, her Targa dream was short-lived when she and Bob withdrew at the close of day two because of mechanical problems.
Louise remains philosophical about the challenges of racing, drawing parallels from it with everyday life. Here, Louise shares what it’s like to race and the inspiration she gains from it.
I’m 46 years old and an artist, dental practice manager, step-mum, wife extraordinaire, and friend. Firstly, I can tell you that 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 – I like to hike and beach walk.
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 2,000 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’s directions – the next corner, dips, speed…the whole lot.
Read what we needed to be doing before we saw it while reading what we were doing now, and keep up with the pace notes. As soon as you pass ‘where we are at now’, you’re at the next stage of 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. 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 is very small and we have these big helmets on – it’s like sitting with a bucket on your head! We wear helmets that 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.
It’s hot – petrol fumes and oil. The suits we wear are fireproof and confining. You’re strapped in really tight. It’s not pretty. 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 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 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?” 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, and 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. Me, personally, I’ve gained so much from 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.
Racing can even feel spiritual because it takes you to a higher state inside yourself. There was a time we were travelling through whiskey country, after going through all the wooded areas…
It was an open drive across the coast, and we were in this tiny little car, and we just felt alone in this world, as we were just driving…not racing, to the next stage, and I felt this awesomeness.
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 them 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 trust in life, you need to have 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 learnt to let go and 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. I’m so grateful. I’m always grateful for life, good and bad.
Thanks, Louise. I can truly say, I have a newfound appreciation for rallying. My friend Louise has the courage and a zest for life that is inspiring. We can all take something from her soulful approach to handling life’s curveballs.