Targa! Targa! Targa!Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
- Inside the Targa Newfoundland road race… the ultimate motorsport adventure.
- The fast-paced world of tarmac rallies.
- What I didn’t expect.
The brochure said we would experience a relaxed and leisurely tour of the island of Newfoundland… by car. The brochure was — upon reflection — as wrong as a hard left turn called out as a hard right.
Of course, this is not to say that the 2004 Targa Newfoundland wasn’t an enormous amount of fun all the same. In fact, this unique event, which draws competitors from around the world, is full of character and offers a real test for the 93 teams brave or stupid enough to sign up, suit up and rev up. Read on for an up-close and personal SharpMan Team account of one of the great road rallies of all time….
First, a brief history lesson: Targa Newfoundland is the only tarmac rally in North America and one of only three events of this kind worldwide, New Zealand and Tasmania being the other two. The concept is based on the Targa Florio, a race across closed public roads on the island of Sicily, which began in the 1950s but is no longer run due to safety concerns.
SharpNote: Florio is the family that originally sponsored the event and targa is Italian for plate, the shape of the trophy awarded to winners.
Today’s event is a weeklong competition for road and rally cars that takes place every September on the island of Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province. In its brief history, The Targa Newfoundland has already become a staple of the amateur car racer’s calendar.
Those interested in entering the competition need a car of some sort, either historic or modern, that meets the requirements; meaning, in good working order and containing additional safety equipment that satisfies race regulations.
Because Targa is an "amateur" race, most of the competitors are self-funded. There are a handful of manufacturer-supported entries each year, but most racers absorb the cost of competing themselves. The budget for a Targa Newfoundland entry (which would include the entry fee, insurance, travel and car preparation) can vary from $5000 on up, depending on the type of car you bring and the category you enter.
Last year’s event — the third annual — began and ended in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland, and consisted of a Demonstration Day, a Prologue (practice day) and five days of competition covering some 1500 miles. The course was made up of non-competitive transit stages and targa stages. For the non-competitive transit stages, competitors were required to follow the rules of the road, including posted speed limits. For the targa stages, all rules were thrown out the window, particularly the posted speed limits.
As with traditional rallies, all teams are given route books with directions for both the transit and targa stages. Each team consists of a driver and a co-driver, sometimes called a navigator. While the driver drives, the co-driver hollers out directions for turns… hopefully before those turns show up.
Two Types of Races
At the Targa Newfoundland, cars run in one of two competitions: Targa or Touring.
The Targa Competition is a high-speed rally open to cars that have been outfitted for race conditions with a full roll cage and other safety equipment. This competition is further sub-divided into categories based on the age of the car and its engine displacement. As a result, this year’s running featured everything from a 1953 Austin Healey 100 to a 2004 Subaru WRX STi.
The Touring Competition is a "more relaxed" (the need for quotation marks will be explained below) event with teams aiming to stay at some an average speed during the targa sections. Touring cars fall into two categories: equipped cars (those with rally computers) and unequipped cars (those without). These cars do not require roll cages, but do require a few extra safety features, such as tow hooks and fire extinguishers.
The Inside View
In anticipation of running in the Touring class in Targa 2004, I assembled a crack team consisting of yours truly behind the wheel and my brother, Lawrence, to occupy the co-driver/navigator seat. He was the first Canadian to complete the notorious Paris-Dakar Rally — on a motorcycle, yet — so I knew he’d be able to keep us on course. Knowing that all we needed to complete the team was some form of vehicle, we approached the good people at Mitsubishi.
The legendary Mitsubishi Evo has racked up countless rally wins on pretty much any continent you’d care to mention — could we convince them to jump on board? We anticipated this might take some time.
Instead, their response was immediate and enthusiastic; a brand new, bone stock 2004 Mitsubishi Galant GTS was shipped up from the U.S., fitted with fire extinguishers and race decals, then whisked off to St. John’s.
We were ready to go. Or so we thought.
Once we started the race, the competition became more and more heated. For those teams in the Targa class, the objective was to travel as quickly as possible over the targa stages that wind through coastal towns without making a wrong turn and ending up in the Atlantic Ocean. Targa teams must finish the stages within a predetermined time; if they don’t, they’re assessed penalty time. The team with the least amount of penalty time at the end of the event wins the class.
As you can imagine, when you’re under pressure to stay on the pace, racing through a town with roads designed for a 20 mph speed limit — yes, you read that right: 20 mph — something’s gotta give. In certain cases, that thing was our vehicle’s bodywork. This year’s event saw a number of off-road excursions, but, thankfully, only one retirement due to an accident… no serious injuries… and just one visit to a local hospital for observation.
Since many of the Targa cars are older, a significant portion of each teams’ efforts also go towards keeping their machinery operating at peak efficiency throughout the entire event. While some teams came with their own service crews, most were private entries with drivers and co-drivers doing all the maintenance and repairs.
In the Targa class, the husband and wife team of Bill Arnold and Tamara Hull won the Classic division for the second year in a row. This duo from California also piloted their 1972 BMW Bavaria (nicknamed "Frankenstein" because it’s powered by a BMW M3 engine) to the "unofficial" overall Targa class win. (See photo) Finishing just five seconds off the pace were Jud Buchanan of Georgetown, Ont., and Peter Wright of Mount Albert, Ont., in their heavily modified 1967 Canso Acadian. (See photo)
There was a fair amount of competition in the Touring competition, as well. For these competitors, maintaining a predetermined average speed over the targa stages was far easier said than done because the rally organizers placed hidden, interval time controls at various points in the stages.
In other words, you have a target time to finish the stage, but you can’t drive as fast as possible early on, then slow to a crawl near the finish line waiting for that target time to arrive. Touring teams were also given a "window of time" or a buffer zone to finish a stage or arrive at a time control; finishing outside of that window, either early or late, meant you incurred penalty time.
During the first two days, the competition was indeed "more relaxed" and there were plenty of teams tied for the lead with no penalty time… because the window of time began at 30 seconds.
Then, the hammer came down.
The window shrunk to 10 seconds and then to six seconds. This meant that you had to be more precise in maintaining your average speeds, keeping one eye on the odometer and one eye on the clock at all times. (Oh, yeah, and a third eye on the road.)
All of a sudden, during the tight parts of the targa stages, Touring cars were going as fast as possible, too. Given that the roads were full of character, this was no easy task. Teams had to contend with elevation changes, surface changes, potholes, swaths of gravel and tiny, one-lane roads that looked more like alleys.
In order to keep pace, we drove within a hair’s breadth of wooden fences, wooden telephone posts, wooden houses and certain disaster. We used front lawns as apexes, veered to avoid errant dogs and relied on spectators to point us in the right direction when things got extra confusing.
At the conclusion of these stages, quotes from our fellow competitors came through like reports on the evening news: "I had to drive it like I stole it!" and "I hit a telephone pole!" One driver, talking about the tight nature of the in-town stages, had this to say: "If the guy in that house on the corner hadn’t closed his fridge door, I wouldn’t have made the corner." Yes, it was just that tight… well, almost.
Luckily, our Galant was more than up to the task; the suspension easily managed all the jumps and potholes, the V6 provided the power needed to accelerate off the turns and the interior was a comfortable place to spend week-long road trip. And after many rookie mistakes, our fair share of luck and the benefit of driving this decidedly tough car, we placed third in our class behind a pair of local teams with 27 seconds in penalty time.
At the end of the 2004 Targa Newfoundland, all the "finishers" parked on George Street in downtown St. John’s for a champagne celebration. Each finisher received a medal for his or her efforts and those who placed well in their respective classes also received plaques or plates.
While a motorsports event such as the Targa Newfoundland can be fun to watch, it’s always much more fun to participate. After all, where else can you drive flat-out through a series of 90-degree turns in a subdivision? Or, at least, where can you do this without landing a starring role on "COPS?"
So, for anyone with a serious need for speed, a slightly reckless side and a car they’re prepared to abuse, this rally is just the ticket.This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010