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Targa Newfoundland - Australian Connection

If you stood in Hobart Tasmania, drilled a hole directly at the centre of the earth and kept on going, you’d end up in - well, you’d end up somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic.

But you’d be pretty close to St. John’s Newfoundland.

Which means that a group of certified car lunatics from Aus will be travelling about as far as it’s possible to travel in a terrestrial plane to get to the Targa Newfoundland, which takes place September 13 - 22.

Does that give you some idea of how much fun THEY think they’re going to have?

The father-and-son team of John and Andrew Lawson from South Yarra, Victoria, in a gorgeous one-of-three-in-the-world supercharged 1938 Alfa Romeo Mille Miglia; the husband-and-wife team of Len and Gayle Cattlin, from Melbourne, in a ludicrously fast 1967 Ford Mustang (the Aussies give nothing away to the Americans in their love of big-bore V8 engines); the husband and wife competitors of Peter and Kerith Buckingham from Victoria in their “His-and-Hers” Porsches, his a 1965 911, hers a 1963 356C; and Mark Saxby from Hobart Tasmania, and Martin Rees from Launceston Tasmania in a Porsche 911 Turbo, will be among the entrants in the first-ever running of this event.

The Targa Newfoundland, for those of you who missed our previous stories, is based upon the wildly successful Targa Tasmania - all these Australian teams have extensive experience in the Antipodean event.

Both Targas, Newfoundland and Tasmania, are six-day performance rallies, conducted primarily but not exclusively for vintage cars, but run exclusively on paved roads - you wouldn’t want to run YOUR 1938 Alfa Romeo on gravel, now, would you?

I had the immense pleasure of competing in the 2001 Targa Tasmania, courtesy of Doug Mepham, world-class P.R. dude and world-class vintage rally car fanatic, whose beautifully-prepped 1971 Volvo carried us bravely and stalwartly to a strong finish in that year’s event.

On the ferry ride back from Tasmania to Melbourne, Doug and I were surmising that to run an event like this anywhere in North America, you’d need a place where the locals would welcome strangers, a place isolated enough that you could close the roads off for half a day or so without bringing the local economy to a grinding halt, and a place that could use a boost to tourism.

“Can you say ‘Targa Newfoundland’?” I allegedly said - Doug is my witness...

When I ran that story in the Toronto Star’s Wheels section, Doug sent it to Bob Giannou, a well-known race and rally organizer in St. John’s. A few thousand meetings later, and the Targa Newfoundland is a reality.

The rally is sanctioned by the Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS). Giannou has enlisted the aid of Octagon Motorsports, the world-wide race and rally organizing company which also runs the Targa Tasmania. Their expertise, combined with the enthusiasm of the local governments, the Zone Economic boards in Newfoundland, and a couple of thousand volunteers, many of whom are “coming back from away” to participate, will ensure that the Targa Newfoundland runs as smoothly as possible.

The 2,300 km route was developed by Ross Wood and John Bellefleur, two of Canada’s most experienced rally competitors and organizers. The event will start and finish in St. John’s, and will cover portions of the Avalon, Burin, Notre Dame and Bonavista peninsulas.

Whether it’ll go through “Dildo” or “Come-by-Chance” - well, you’ll have to enter to find out.

The event is made up of “Touring” or transit stages, run on open roads and according to strictly enforced local traffic laws. Cars will be given ample time to complete these stages.

These connect the various “Targa”, or timed stages, for which the roads will be closed to the public, and the cars timed to the second. There will be on average seven of these per day, running from 1.5 to 43 km in length.

Each Targa stage will have a “base” time; if a car meets or beats that time, it “clears” the stage and scores zero penalty points. (Unlike most performance rallies, there is no advantage in being absolute fastest, or in being under the base time.)

The car in each class that scores the fewest penalty points wins that class.

In addition, each class and category of vehicle is assigned a so-called “Targa” time, usually about 30 percent slower than the base, predicated on the age, performance level and modifications allowed for that class and category. If a car meets or beats the Targa time for each of the 38 Targa stages, it will be honoured with a “Targa trophy”, the goal of the vast majority of competitors.

In order to compete in the Targa event, cars require basic minimum safety equipment such as roll cages and four-point seat belts.

Competitors who want to enjoy the scenery, the driving and the camaraderie and spirit of a monster event like this but don’t want to go to the trouble and expense (not to mention the bodging of their precious automobile) necessary to properly outfit a car for competition, can enter the “Trials” class. This will run on the same roads, even on the Targa stages, but will be scored as a “time-and-distance” rally, without the stress of high-speed competition.

In addition to the Southern Cross All-Stars, there are some well-known Canadian and American entrants in the event. Tom McGeer, one of the best rally drivers on the planet and a neighbour of mine from Georgetown Ontario, will forgo his normal ride, a fully competition-prepped Subaru WRX which has made him a perennial champion in both Canada and the United States, and drive a 1965 Ford Falcon, owned and navigated by Mark Williams of Maryland, a long-time endurance rally competitor who actually won the incredibly difficult Carrera Panamerica one year.

This car is a faithful reproduction of the Falcons which competed in the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-‘60s, and will surely be a treat to watch - and listen to.

Another neighbour, Jud Buchanan, a formidable rally and solo competitor, will team with Peter Wright in Buchanan’s incredible “Acadian Canso”. Now, there’s a test for old car fans; that year of Acadian was the Canadian version of the Chevy II (the name was resurrected in the’70s for a Canadian version of the Chevette).

Buchanan’s Acadian is not what it appears, although the massive tires on 17-inch wheels and the completely new racing suspension might provide a few clues... Under the hood is a race-prepped 5.7 litre V8; Jud better be careful when he drops the clutch on this thing or Newfoundland might find itself 100 metres closer to England.

Among the more outrageous contenders from the U.S. will be a bright red V_10 Dodge Viper GT-S coupe, in the hands of Jerry Churchill. U.S.-born but Windsor-raised, the 62-year old, now residing in Dearborn Michigan, began his motorsport career decades ago at Bluebird Speedway in Windsor. He has raced stock cars at Talladega and Daytona, and has a fifth place in the Carrara Panamericana to his credit.

Other unusual include a rare 1955 Austin-Healey 100S, and a 1951 Citroen Traction Avant.

Oh yes - Mepham and I will reprise our Targa Tasmania run in Doug’s Volvo. I hope he’s got the gasoline smell out of it by now...

About these far-flung competitors, Targa Newfoundland organizer Bob Giannou said, “That competitors of this stature are attracted to our event is really an honour. Some of these people are going to come half-way around the world to see Newfoundland and try our event, and that is the biggest vote of confidence this rally could have.”

If you’ve got a vintage car of any description at all - or even a brand new one - what’s your excuse?

For more information about entering the Targa Newfoundland, contact:

Bob Giannou: 709 722 2413  

or check out the web site:

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