2004 Targa Newfoundland
Williams/Harper Mini Cooper S. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams

Billed by its organizers as, “The ultimate North American tarmac rally,” the third annual Targa Newfoundland ended in St. John’s on September 18, after five days of spirited competition.

For the second consecutive year, Autos’s Paul Williams shared driving and navigating duties with the National Post’s “Driver’s Edge” editor, Brian Harper (Harper drove in the morning; Williams in the afternoon) in their Mini Cooper S entered by Mini Canada.

The rally – patterned after similar events held in Tasmania and New Zealand, in which racers compete on closed sections of public roads called stages – featured everything from vintage classics like Gerd Schwarzkopf’s 1956 Porsche Carrera GS, to full-blown rally cars like Nova Scotia’s John Paynter in his 2004 Subaru Impreza STi.

Although there is officially no overall winner of the Targa Newfoundland (because there are so many divisions within classes), California’s Bill Arnold with navigator Tamara Hill again topped the scoreboard in his heavily modified 1972 BMW Bavaria in the Targa Class, and Quebec’s Jean-Francois Drolet and Rejean Beaulieu repeated their 2003 winning performance in the Touring Class driving a 2004 Infiniti G35 coupe.

This year’s 2,200-kilometre event drew a record 90 entrants divided into its two main classes: Touring and Targa. Driving at stage speeds up to 200 km/h in the Targa class, and 140 km/h in Touring (posted speed limits are observed on the the “transit” from one stage to the next), the classes are run consecutively through the rally route.

Williams-Harper Mini Cooper S
Williams-Harper Mini Cooper S

Paul Williams (left) and Brian Harper
Paul Williams (left) and Brian Harper
Click image to enlarge

After last year’s fifth place finish for the Touring class Harper/Williams Mini Cooper S, the team was psyched to win the 2004 event. Figuring we had experience and a plan (drive like mad for the first section of each stage, slow down to nail our times in the second section) we felt we were definitely in with a chance.

Unfortunately, event organizers were wise to this strategy, and imposed interim time and speed controls in each stage (not for Targa, just for Touring). This turned the Touring class into a time-speed-distance (TSD) style rally, and definitely clipped everyone’s wings. It also resulted in a tedious couple of hours each night with a calculator (for those of us without TSD-type, onboard rally computers), plotting our times for the next day’s stages.

So it was fifth place again (out of 17 cars in our Touring “equipped” division), which turned out to be a good result given that we used little more than a calculator, a clock and an odometer (next year, though, we’re taking an atomic clock, so watch out!).

A second factory Mini Cooper S, piloted by auto journalist Jim Kenzie and navigator Brian Bourbonniere, came third in their class of six vehicles, and regularly reached 200 km/h and average speeds of 130 km/h in the Targa competition.

Both 2004 Mini Coopers were equipped with the optional John Cooper Works performance kit (a $6,800, dealer-installed option) that boosts horsepower to 200 from 163. Ironically, the JCW kit bumped the 1.6-litre displacement of the Targa-class Mini to 3.7-L, and saw Mr. Kenzie’s car competing in the “large displacement” division against cars like an Audi S4 and a Ford Mustang GT (which they handily beat).

2004 Targa Newfoundland - Williams/Harper Mini Cooper S
Click image to enlarge

Competitors covered 36 of the planned 38 stages (two were cancelled), ranging in length from four to 40 km through a variety of conditions designed to challenge both car and driver. The Gander South stage, for instance, had all vehicles charging around corners of a suburban subdivision at well over 100 km/h, with residents getting VIP seating on their front porches just metres from the action.

Likewise, stages through the tiny towns of Greenspond and Grand Bank appeared to attract their entire populations as spectators lined a route that was sometimes little more than a back lane, or barely wider than a driveway, with steep hills to climb or descend throughout. The ocean was never far away in these stages, and although all drivers managed to keep their cars out of the water, several left the road in dramatic fashion (no injuries to drivers or spectators were sustained, however).

The variety of cars competing in this year’s event was a continuing source of fascination for local residents (and for many race participants). Modern cars like Harald von Langsdorff’s 2004 Cadillac CTS-V, Jeremy Sinek’s 2004 Mazda RX-8 and Jeff Green’s Audi RS6 contrasted with classics like Mike Salter’s 1953 Austin Healey, Jerry Churchill’s 1963 Chevrolet Impala and Brian and Ken Jarvis’s 1975 BMW 2002 Tii (the Jarvis’s crashed this car in last year’s event, but were back for another try).

2004 Targa Newfoundland

2004 Targa Newfoundland
Click image to enlarge

Race participants, support crews and organizers travelled through most of eastern and central Newfoundland, spending nights in Gander, Clarenville, Marystown and the city of St. John’s as the event progressed. In the evenings, cars assembled in local arenas for popular Targa shows, where drivers and navigators busily signed autographs for local residents.

This is a great event for anyone who loves driving, and loves to travel. The legendary hospitality of Newfoundlanders was humbling for all involved. For Touring competitor Richard Stoddard from Connecticut, this is his second Targa event driving his pride-and-joy, “Team Redbird’s” 2002 Ford Thunderbird.

“For me, I love the driving,” said Mr. Stoddard, “But most of all, meeting the people here is just magical. The kids especially, they love seeing the cars and talking to the drivers, so I’m happy to stop when I can.”

Sharing a similar sentiment, London, Ontario’s Dick Paterson, allowed children along the route to sign the white roof of his 1959 Mini. By the end of the event, his vehicle graphically symbolized the appeal and support for the Targa Newfoundland by local resident, over 2000 of whom volunteered to help with its organization and management.

But this interim time control business was not popular among many of the Touring class competitors. Some, like Montreal’s Thierry Parisot in his Porsche GT3 and Richard Adams in his Chevrolet SSR, simply didn’t bother trying to maintain the average speeds, and blasted through the stages at a dizzying pace (which didn’t endear them to the organizers).

Others took a more leisurely approach, enjoying the flavour of a rally, without competing seriously.

Targa Newfoundland 2005 is set for September 10 next year. Organizer Robert Giannou and his team are aiming for 150 participants on race day in Placentia. Check www.targanewfoundland.com for more details.

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