Targa rallying and the death of Peter Brock


Targa rallying is a unique form of motorsport where purpose-built rally cars compete on (normally public) bitumen roads that have been closed for competition.  Starting at 30-second intervals, the cars race against the clock with the winner being the fastest car over all the special (closed road) competition stages.  A typical Targa event will usually have between 20-40 special competition stages across several days that may traverse much of the State.     

Targa events are not for the faint hearted.  Speed can be very high and as the roads are otherwise public roads, the condition of those roads varies widely.  Most competitors undertake extensive road reconnaissance prior to the event but even so, the attrition rate in Targa events is often 20-25% of the field through accident or mechanical failure. 

In giving the following account I will say that much of it is first-hand knowledge with a few aspects told to myself by people I know well (and trust) from their first-hand knowledge.  The full story has only previously been known to a few and to the best of my knowledge, has never been retold in this format. 

——–

Peter Brock, otherwise known as ‘Peter Perfect’, ‘The King of the Mountain’, or simply ‘Brocky’, was one of Australia’s best-known and most successful motor racing drivers.  Brock was most often associated with Holden although he raced vehicles from other manufacturers including BMW, Ford, Volvo, Porsche and Peugeot.  He won the Bathurst 1000 race nine times, the Sandown 500 nine times, the Australian Touring Car Championship three times, the Bathurst 24 Hour and was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall of Fame in 2001.

On 8 September 2006, while driving in the Targa West tarmac rally, Brock was 3 kilometres from the finish of the second stage at Gidgegannup, about 40 km from Perth, when he skidded off a downhill left-hand bend on Clenton Road in his Daytona Sportscar and hit a tree.   Brock was killed instantly and his co-driver, Mick Hone, was taken to hospital in a serious but stable condition.

Video footage of the crash (provided by a spectator and the in-car camera) was reviewed by West Australian police to help determine the cause of the accident.  Coroner Alastair Hope decided that Brock’s death was caused by high speed and that no coronial inquest would be performed.  

Those facts are publicly available (Wikipedia) but they do not reveal the backstory of the accident.  

In the evening following the crash, full details were still unclear but there was enough information from eyewitness reports and other sources to suggest that Brock was driving noticeably faster than the other competitors.  That was very significant as the competition group consisted of many highly skilled, and very quick, tarmac rally drivers accompanied by experienced co-drivers. 

The day after the crash it was revealed that Brock had attended a reception at Australia House in London barely 36 hours before he was due to be in WA.  Other information confirmed that Brock had been unhappy with the handling of the Daytona and had requested several suspension and other changes be made prior to the WA event.  (The Daytona was an innovative Australian manufactured vehicle with a high performance 6.0 litre V8 squeezed into a vehicle weighing only 1100kgs).  Those changes would significantly alter the car’s handling characteristics but, perhaps tellingly, Brock hadn’t driven the car since the changes were completed. 

Brock’s co-driver in Targa West was his friend Mick Hone who is very well known in the motorcycling fraternity as a motorcycle competitor and retailer.  Hone had relatively limited experience in Targa style events although Brock and Hone had competed in the Targa Tasmania event a few months earlier.  Unfortunately, mechanical issues plagued the car and their joint rallying experience suffered. 

A clear picture of the relevant issues was now emerging.  Peter Brock had attended a reception in London shortly before he was due to drive in Targa West.  He flew directly from London to Perth and arrived just hours before the start of the event.  Meanwhile, the car had undergone changes that altered the handling dynamics and, Brock didn’t test drive it before the competition start.  Brock and his co-driver had not had the opportunity to conduct substantial reconnaissance of the course immediately before the event and yet they were using pace notes* purchased from a third party.  And finally, the speed.  It was subsequently confirmed that Brock’s official stage times prior to the accident were faster than any other driver.  Various eyewitnesses along the previous stage and immediately prior to the crash reported that Brock was “absolutely flat out” in terms of his speed and driving style.

Was Brock jetlagged?  Did the car have a new handling characteristic of which Brock wasn’t unaware?  Why didn’t Brock make time to test-drive the car after the suspension changes?  Did the lack of on-stage reconnaissance to verify the suitability of the purchased pace notes play a role?   Why did Brock use a relatively inexperienced co-driver? (a driver of Brock’s undoubted driving ability would normally demand a thoroughly experienced co-driver).  

Peter Brock was an highly talented driver and his loss was a tragedy for his family and friends, to motorsport and his many fans.  His demise was a classic ‘Swiss cheese’ moment where all of the individual circumstances aligned to produce the outcome.  No single factor was responsible.  Yet, it must also be queried to what extent did Brock’s own actions, or omissions, play a contributing role.  As a professional race driver, he must have (or should have) known that the actions or omissions in car preparation and the preparation of himself and his co-driver would significantly heighten the risk, and he should drive accordingly. 

Tarmac rallying is a thrilling and demanding form of motorsport but it is ruthless towards those who treat it with disrespect.   As mentioned previously, speeds are often very high and there is no room for error with trees and other immovable obstacles just metres away.  Unbridled belief in your ability may mask, but does not diminish, the risk. 

*’Pace notes’ are used in rally events, whether tarmac or dirt, and allow the co-driver to inform the driver of the road conditions ahead whilst the car travels at high speed.  The information will include whether the road ahead is straight after, say, a blind crest or, the comparative tightness of an upcoming corner among other information.   Some semi/professional co-drivers sell their pace notes to other competitors, but it is vital that the purchased notes are re-checked by route reconnaissance by the purchasing competitor.  The competitor can then make any required adjustments relevant to the vehicle being used and comparative skill of the driver.   


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billie
billie
February 8, 2023 2:20 pm

Peter Brock was 61 when he died and I would be amazed if his reaction times had not slowed.

Track events are safer, to a degree, having sand or gravel pits in some places, but many concrete walls as well.

When I was that age, I attended a race driving school and during the training, we had to endure the “kick plate”.

You drive (60 to 80kph) straight towards a wet skid pan area and as your back wheels pass over a metal plate entering the pan – it can randomly move left or right and with random force.

You are training your hands, to react faster then you can think almost, to catch the car as the back goes out and not go into a spin.

I used to do this test ok, but into my 60s, I found more and more often that I didn’t catch it and spun the car.

I still race, but am well aware of my declining reaction time.

Mind you, there is a guy who competed at Le Mans 24 Hour race in France last year in GTE-AM Class, at age 75 .. what a guy!

Peter Brock though, was a great driver and amazingly consistent in his driving – his videos at Bathurst are reviewed by current top level drivers to this day. His suspension setups we innovative and very advanced for the time. He really understood cars.

Old School Conservative
Old School Conservative
February 8, 2023 2:51 pm

Thanks Speedbox.
A great insight for this sports nut who knows nothing about rallying but enjoyed your clarity.

jupes
jupes
February 8, 2023 3:00 pm

Thanks Speedy. Amazing that all this information was not publicly known about the death of such a giant of Australian sport.

flyingduk
flyingduk
February 8, 2023 3:15 pm

I drove about a dozen Targa events, but also acted as Emergency Crew for over a hundred more. In that time I attended 2 fatal crashes (with 3 dead) and dozens of severe crashes. I twice had people die in events I was competing in, and once was asked to respond into stage to assist at serious crash (which rather put paid to my event). I also was first response to one very public fatality at a major street circuit race.

In every case it was a side impact that caused the deaths – with trees in the tarmac rallies, and with a concrete barrier in the circuit event.

It doesn’t matter how ‘rigid’ you make your car with a roll cage etc (all of the above involved fully caged cars), its all a matter of ‘stopping distance’ – if you hit a tree sideways with your door, you go from whatever speed you are doing to zero in the space between the outer skin of the door and your seat – ie in 30cm or less.

Frontal crashes, rollovers and side impacts NOT centred on the drivers or passenger door are, on the other hand, amazingly survivable.

At the end of the day, as it says on the tin ‘motor racing is dangerous’ and as adults, its up to the competitors to decide if they want to play.

The only sport I ever played which was more dangerous was Cross Country Eventing – it was different era, but they used to schedule me as the last round of the day, as I was often acting as Event Dr as well!

Perplexed of Brisbane
Perplexed of Brisbane
February 8, 2023 3:22 pm

Eric Bana can attest to the danger of Targa rallies from his docu-drama “Love the Beast”.

Bruce
Bruce
February 8, 2023 3:28 pm

Coroners?

Magistrates, often ex-prosecutors, presiding over intensely technical details pertaining to a death.

Witnessing a “coroner” refusing to allow a technical analysis of a fatal road “event”, as prepared by an ACTUAL world-class scientist with several post-grad certifications did not do anything “positive” for my already low opinion of “government” agencies.

The “verdict” was “speed”, resulting in a fatal “head-on”, despite all of the evidence, including the damaged vehicles, and the medical report on the deceased, to the contrary.

The ever-deepening loss of confidence in “officialdom” is going to have some VERY “interesting” consequences.

RobK
RobK
February 8, 2023 3:41 pm

Thanks Speedbox,
Understandable yet tragic sequence of events .
No room for error.
A good friend in his seventies, was shouted a time trail at Wanaroo Park by his adult children. He is still a practicing machinist who has worked for some of the best here in WA motor sport.
He lamented after the time trials: I know exactly what to do and how to do it but the reflexes just aren’t there like they used to be. Beaten by the younguns. He can still get the best out of an engine though.

Fair Shake
Fair Shake
February 8, 2023 3:57 pm

Targa event this weekend up Mt Buller, Vic.

I know this cos a group of us had planned to ride our push bikes up Buller. We defer to their hp. Hopefully they have a safe weekend …as do we up a different hill.

Vicki
Vicki
February 8, 2023 4:53 pm

Husband, who has driven motor sport events in his earlier years, notes that a great driver like Brock would have “sussed” out the car substantially in the first stage of the rally. However, Targas really require reconnaissance of the course prior to tackling the time trial. “Pace notes” are fine, but they are subjective, and may not accurately note every feature of the course.

Yes, he was “Peter Perfect” – arguably one of the finest drivers this country has produced. All of us, of a certain vintage, have witnessed him drive in a way that most can only dream of achieving. But, at the end of the day, he drove at an exquisite edge of stability/instability. Almost certainly, certain factors, as are mentioned above, finally tipped the balance.

Vicki
Vicki
February 8, 2023 4:57 pm

BTW husband wanted to drive a Lotus Super 7 in a Targa, but with absolutely no side protection, he wisely decided not to.

Ed Case
Ed Case
February 8, 2023 6:13 pm

Interesting read.
This sentence doesn’t scan:

Did the car have a new handling characteristic of which Brock wasn’t unaware?

Comment #1 says Peter Brock was 61.
At the time of his death, according to The Australian the next day, he was 54.

H B Bear
H B Bear
February 8, 2023 7:22 pm

My sister used to live at Chidlow. I wouldn’t want to be driving fast on a lot of those minor roads. I guess the roads get cleaned up with enough people over them.

Robert Sewell
February 8, 2023 8:19 pm

Flyingduk:
I assisted with an autopsy in ?WA about 15 years ago – young bloke put his vehicle sideways into a rather solid tree. As you say, 140+ to 0 in 30 cm.
The G forces must have been tremendous – such that his ascending aorta dissected itself as the heart rotated on its venous axis. (I may have the medical details wrong, it was a while ago.) The other damage wasn’t survivable, either the brain was mush and the liver no better.
He may have even survived if he’d taken the tree head on – doubtful, but God looks after children and drunks.

flyingduk
flyingduk
February 8, 2023 9:18 pm

I was chatting to a very well known race driver and he said “(Speedbox), drive those events at no more than 9 1/2 /10ths. Always have something up your sleeve. Drive at 10/10ths all the time and its just as likely you’ll crash.

I’m betting that was Jim Richards .

PS… I beat Steven Richards one year despite him steering a very fast Mk1 Escort – his gearbox exploded which evened us up! – In fact, almost *everyone* I ever beat was stationary on the roadside, waving as I went by 😉

C.L.
C.L.
February 8, 2023 10:11 pm

I agree with Billie. He was too old for this form of racing and too vain to admit it.

Great post, Speedie.

Real Deal
Real Deal
February 9, 2023 6:40 am

I agree with Billie. He was too old for this form of racing and too vain to admit it.

At his funeral his friend Allan Moffat admitted as much. Moffat knew when he had enough. He retired at 50. Brock lived and breathed racing and didn’t know when to stop.

Real Deal
Real Deal
February 9, 2023 6:41 am

Thanks for posting, Speedbox. Great piece of writing.

duncanm
duncanm
February 9, 2023 8:51 am

Even the best make mistakes, and as Duck says, its not the speed, its the stopping that gets you.

Sometimes the margin between ‘that was close’ and death is small.

https://youtu.be/cxDz0Z066NI?t=114

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFLB4Kzbrdw

thefrollickingmole
thefrollickingmole
February 9, 2023 9:32 am

I am surprised to see they hadnt been over the route beforehand.
Would have thought that as near essential to get a feel for the track and some of the variables like road camber and hazards.

OldOzzie
OldOzzie
February 9, 2023 2:22 pm

Thanks Speedbox,

When I drove & navigated in Rallies it was quite primitive.

Drivers drove on their ability to see ahead and read the road and environment – navigation simple

John Keran, who I navigated for, drove at 10/10ths & we did crash.

T H E S O U T H E R N C R O S S R A L L Y .

Special Information

. Included in the Rally instructions, you will find Advice to Navigators Charts. This Advice to Navigators is to be taken as advice ONLY and is not to be regarded as instructions. The use of these charts and advice is left entirely to the discretionof the competitors.

. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of mileage and information but no guarantee is given that errors are not present.

. Every gate encountered on the course has been mileaged except one (1) but not all grids have been given, only those grids which the Director considers worthy of mention,such as narrow, on bends, wooden, unsafe and bad bumps types of grid.

. ‘Special stages’ will be included and will be nominated where applicable after the Section No. Timing of special stages will be to 6th of a minute, i.e. (10 seconds) and will be read to the forward 6th of a minute.
Penalties will be, 1point per 10 seconds, or part thereof, late.

Timing by Longines only.

SECTION 5. DIVISION1. STAGE1. PAGE 4.

MAPS. = “WEST SLOPES”
CONTROL. = Junction of Blue & Dotted Roads shown as approx. 2 map miles South East of Porters Retreat.
ENTRY. = From North.
TRAVEL. = via Shooters Hill.
TIME. = 33 minutes.

Advice to Navigators.

5.7- B. B.
7.77 – T.R.
11.97 – B..L.
16.65 -B.R.
20.82 – B. L.
22.69 – B.L.

SECTION6 .

MAPS. = “WEST SLOPES”
CONTROL. = On the Laggan – Golspie Road approx. 4. 7 miles west of Golspie.
ENTRY. = From East.
TRAVEL. = via Golspie from the North.
TIME. = 58 minutes.

Advice to Navigators.
24. 50 – T. R. S/Posted Yalbraith
27.34- T. R.
27.61-T.R.
32.95 – T.L.
35.86 – T. R.
37.36 – B. L.

OldOzzie
OldOzzie
February 9, 2023 10:39 pm

Speedbox says:
February 9, 2023 at 6:31 pm

OO – link doesn’t work.

Speedbox,

try this link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Ql7DYpqeSvRFJOaDRKazhwNmM/view?resourcekey=0-yqtlhA6FXlkzX88GoX0h2A

Navigation was primitive – hence why I was able to drive the Suggan Buggan to Cooma leg when my 54 year old driver felt tired – no real navigation, and he had felt tired from the evening run Buchan to Suggan Buggan, as there was snow on the gound from Buchan to Suggan Buggan and slippery with lots of concentration

Salvatore, Understaffed & Overworked Martyr to Govt Covid Stupidity

Thank you Speedbox. Very much appreciated.
I’ve had a couple of days digesting the above.
Thank you to the informed commenters. Much appreciated.

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