The annual Targa Tasmania car rally should continue despite three tragic fatalities at this year’s event, Sydney’s “Lambo barrister” Peter Lavac says.
The former Hong Kong crown prosecutor and racing enthusiast, who made headlines recently for his battle with Transport NSW over his “offensive” number plates, took part in last month’s six-day race in his 2016 Lamborghini Huracan.
Shane Navin, 68, Leigh Mundy, 68, and Dennis Neagle, 59, died in two separate crashes in the space of 24 hours in the final stages of the race, leaving 620 fellow competitors in mourning and raising questions about the future of the iconic event.
But Mr Lavac said he would “absolutely” do the event again “in a heartbeat if it was starting next week”.
“This rally must not be cancelled in any way, shape or form,” he said.
“I know the greenies and the lefties and the PC mob are going to be screaming and whingeing that it should be axed, but this is not what the three brave men would want. It would be disrespectful to their memory.”
Mr Lavac held a gathering over the weekend to mark the end of the race, where guests observed a minute’s silence to pay tribute to the three men.
A minute’s silence was similarly observed at the Saturday night banquet and trophy ceremony marking the end of the race.
“That was a really poignant moment – the three men who died tragically, they died doing what they loved,” he said.
“You have to bear in mind that all of us who took part in this event knew what we signed up for, and every race car driver knows that when he gets behind the wheel of a high-powered racing car he puts his life on the line.”
Shane Navin died in a crash on day five of the event.Source:News Corp Australia
Leigh Mundy was killed on the final day.Source:Supplied
His co-driver Dennis Neagle also died in the crash.Source:Supplied
Mr Lavac paid tribute to his navigator, Dean Whittaker, for his “great courage and bravery”.
He said he only had one “tricky moment” coming down a hill at high speed when Mr Whittaker accidentally called out “hard left instead of hard right”.
“I knew we were in trouble when the spectators started to scatter in all directions,” he said.
“I had to virtually stand on the brake. After that we got a black marker pen and I marked ‘L’ on Dean’s left hand and ‘R’ on his right hand, and we had no further problems after that. We had a good laugh about it.”
Mr Lavac added that Mr Whittaker had “nerves of steel and balls of iron”.
“Because there’s no f***ing way on earth I could sit in a passenger seat for six days and put my hands in the life of another person,” he said. “Dean did it without flinching.”
Competitors wore black armbands and attached strips of black tape to their headlights going into the final day of the race out of respect for Mr Navin, who died the previous day when his 1979 Mazda RX-7 rolled in wet weather on Mount Arrowsmith.
But then news came of a second fatal crash, with Mr Mundy and his co-driver Mr Neagle being killed after their 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS came off the road at Cygnet in what one witness said was “like an explosion”.
Mr Lavac said there had been an “ominous sign” on the first day of the event, which was plagued by wet weather throughout, when seven-time winners Jason and John White’s battery caught fire.
They crashed out of the event the next day after their Dodge Viper ACR Extreme hit a stream of water on the road and aquaplaned into an embankment, bursting into flames.
Organisers downgraded the stages to touring just after midday on the Friday, leaving Eddie Maguire and Zak Brakey as the overall winners in their 2016 Dodge Viper.
Peter Lavac and navigator Dean Whittaker. Picture: Angryman PhotographySource:Supplied
Mr Lavac’s 2016 Lamborghini Huracan. Picture: Angryman PhotographySource:Supplied
The Sydney barrister says the race must go on.Source:Supplied
“It’s not the feeling we thought we’d get as we had been working 30 years for this,” Mr Maguire said. “I also want to offer my condolences to the family and friends of the people we have lost yesterday and today.”
There have now been five fatalities in the Targa’s 29-year history – the most recent before this year’s event occurred in 2013.
In a statement last week, the Navin family said Shane loved competing in tarmac rally events and that Targa Tasmania was his favourite.
“He was very excited to drive the newly refitted car in this event,” the family said.
“He loved the strategy and the camaraderie of the sport, it was never about the win. We say thank you to Targa Australia, the volunteers, emergency services and all the other competitors for their support during this difficult time. It is a tragedy for our family but he died doing something he loved. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the other families who also lost loved ones at this event.”
In a statement after the second crash, Targa Australia chief executive Mark Perry said it had been a “devastating few days for the Targa family”.
“Today our thoughts and deepest condolences go to Leigh and Dennis’ family and friends,” Mr Perry said.
“Both loved Targa and we knew them so well, which makes their passing so difficult for everyone in our community. They will be sorely missed by us all.”
Targa added that as it was now a coronial matter, it would not be making any further statements.
The day after the conclusion of the race, Motorsport Australia announced the formation of a special investigatory tribunal into the three fatalities.
The tribunal will investigate “all aspects of the incidents and provide recommendations to the Motorsport Australia Board”.
“The tribunal will be led by Garry Connelly AM, and also include a number of key motorsport safety personnel, including competitors, team owners and medical and safety experts,” Motorsport Australia CEO Eugene Arocca said in a statement.
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