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Leg Two - Wednesday, September 18, 2002; Clarenville / Burin Peninsula

 

“Every party has a pooper

That’s why we invited you...’‘

 

An event as massive in scale as the Targa Newfoundland is bound to attract some opposition from somebody. Somebody who doesn’t want the main street of their town closed; somebody who doesn’t want their driveway blocked off for three hours; somebody who objects to motorsport in all forms, for safety or environmental reasons; somebody who objects to anybody having more fun than they do.

A handful of people in the community of Marystown have provided just about the only opposition to this event, petitioning the local council to shut it down, to not let it disrupt the community’s life.

“Fair enough,” says Doug Mepham, the owner/driver of the car I’m navigating, and also one of the driving forces behind the event’s creation.

“There’s a forum for them to be heard, and they should be heard. But at the end of the day, democracy rules, and they don’t have a case.”

In a country where some think that fifty percent plus one vote is enough to tear an entire province from the national bosom, there are also people who seem to think that one or two votes should be enough to overrule the vast majority who see the Targa Newfoundland as a way to bring excitement, entertainment and not a few tourist dollars to their province.

If the rally’s opponents had any doubts as to where the consensus lay, they should have come out and watched today. Marystown residents voted with their feet - and their cheers, their waves, their horn-honks, their thumbs-ups - all along the route.

The organizers were doubly sensitive about the timed stage through this town, so they set a very liberal time for the 6.88 km of streets, and imposed a penalty on anyone who went under that time by more than twenty-five percent.

It’s odd in a motorsport competition that you’re penalized for being too fast, but the objective here was to put on a show for the townspeople, not to rip up their lawns or tear down their hydro poles.

We were all good little girls and boys; not a single car had a single incident today, either in two passes through Marystown or in today’s other four timed stages, although several competitors did indeed break that twenty-five percent limit.

One team, the highly-favoured Australian crew of Mark Saxby and Martin Rees, came up with a novel way to slow down their Porsche 911 Turbo - in a couple of places where there were lots of spectators, they stopped, jumped out, took pictures of the crowd, hopped back in, and roared off.

Next cluster of spectators - same show.

“It achieved both objectives,” they told me. “The crowd loved it, and we still got zero penalty points.”

The mayor of Marystown was mildly miffed, though. “You guys were Christly slow through here!” he said, implying that he had hoped to see a bit more speed.

Next year, they’ll aim for a happy balance.

Mepham cleverly crafted our team’s strategy to not go too fast through Marystown - he asked me to drive. Doug is very proud of his car, and justly so - it is beautifully prepared and immaculately maintained. He knew that especially with him sitting right beside me, his left hand not too far from the parking brake, that I’d not push very hard.

Still, I did the stage in just four seconds over the minimum allowable.

Later in the afternoon, when we ran Marystown a second time in the opposite direction with Doug at the wheel, we knew what the minimum time was, and I was constantly cautioning him to “Slow down! Slow down!”, so we wouldn’t blow the limit.

At the end, he was three seconds slower than I had been in the morning, a fact I’ll probably never let him forget.

The tables were rightly turned when we both tackled the long and very fast Frenchman’s Cove loop - he beat me by a resounding 26 seconds in a 7 minute stage.

OK Doug, you made your point - you drive; l’ll navigate...

Bob English, a journalistic colleague who’s pedalling a little Kia Rio RX-V station wagon under the guidance of Newfoundland native radio man Ken Ash, and who navigated for Mepham in the Targa New Zealand last fall, noted that while some people like to watch others make love, he’d rather be a participant... Same with navigating versus driving.

No argument from me - but I’d rather navigate than stay home.

Mepham and I are one of six teams (including Saxby and Rees) who have so far “zeroed” every stage in the two days of competition, so we find ourselves in the unfamiliar position of being first overall (OK, tied...) and first in class as well.

It won’t last, but it’s fun for the moment.

The routes today were all in the Burin Peninsula. Look at a map of Newfoundland; the sort-of H-shaped blob in the lower right-hand corner is the Avalon Peninsula, where the capital St. John’s is. That crooked finger of land, sticking out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the southwest, pointing right at the French islands of St-Pierre et Miquelon? That’d be the Burin Peninsula.

The stage through the communities of Burin and Mortier is the most spectacular of the lot so far, the road dipping and diving while clinging to seaside cliff, with picturesque views in all directions.

That’s one advantage of navigating - you get the occasional chance to see the scenery. Doug can look at the pictures later...

Stories about unbelievable hospitality and aid keep pouring in to this rally. Yesterday, the alternator on the lovely Datsun 280Z of Jack MacDonnell and Carson Rasmussen began sending all-too-substantial amounts of alternating current coursing through DC-expectant circuits, taking the starter motor out in the process.

“Teralynn”, the ever-so-helpful Competitor Relations Officer (nicknamed “CROW”), whose job it is to do whatever it takes to help the cars get through the rally, managed to locate an alternator that would fit - a GM Delco part, as it turns out....

Merrill Baker, who is acting as a volunteer marshal for the event, tore the starter off and rebuilt it himself. This evening, Jack and Carson joined us for dinner with a fully-functioning car awaiting them for Thursday morning.

The “street racer boys”, Ken Batstone and Adam Sparkes, who did major unplanned customizing to the body and suspension of Batstone’s Honda Civic on Day One, returned to the fray this morning after an all-night banzai repair job by the lads’ friends. The car won’t win any beauty awards, but it passed a rigorous scrutineering by technical officials before it was allowed to continue. It finished the day without further incident.

The only less-than-perfect story in this vein is the saga of Ralph and Diane Grant of Australia. Their own rally car missed the boat from Aus by mere minutes, but they didn’t want to miss the event. So they flew up here, and leased a former Canadian rally championship-winning 1982 Toyota Celica.

The car certainly had potential, but apart from the demonstration day, it has never really run right. At one point, three of the four spark plugs were oiling up badly.

The diagnosis yesterday was a blown head gasket. The car was dropped off at the local Toyota dealer in Clarenville by a mechanic who volunteered his time; when Ralph went back this afternoon, he was told that the staff there knew nothing about it.

I’m not entirely sure how all this came about, but apparently the volunteer mechanic knew someone who worked there, and dropped the car off. The poor service manager didn’t know the story of the car. Once he was apprised of the situation, he too dug in to help, faxing all over the place trying to find a head gasket, and looking for other spare bits.

Typical of Newfoundland, but especially of Clarenville, which has really bent over backwards to welcome the Targa.

At last report, a head gasket had been located in Toronto; it’ll be flown up tonight and the staff at Central Toyota will see what can be done...

No sign yet of the Sunbeam Tiger that was crunched in Monday’s Prologue, but rumours of its eventual return continue to circulate.

Michael Salter, the owner/driver of the delectable 1955 Austin Healey 100S which was pranged on Day One, is back in the rally - but not in the Healey. Slater also owns the 1965 Morris Mini Cooper which was being campaigned in the time-and-distance “Trials” section of the Targa by his friends, Van and June Worsdale.

The Worsdales didn’t feel it was fair that Michael was put out through no fault of his own - his collision with the disabled Volvo P1800 on Day One was totally unavoidable - so they have turned the Mini back over to Michael and co-driver Richard Paterson.

The Worsdales will follow the progress of the event in a service vehicle.

Which proves there are lots of ways to enjoy the Targa Newfoundland.

 

***

 

Throughout the rally, competitors and spectators alike were following the results in real time, by logging on to “www.rallyscoring.com’‘, clicking on “Rally Results’‘, then “Targa Newfoundland 2002'’, then following the instructions.

This, undoubtedly the most sophisticated rally scoring program in the known universe, was developed by Quebecois Jean-Georges Marcotte.

Typically, rallyists are lucky to find out by the next morning what their previous day’s hard work has earned them; in this (and any other Marcotte-scored event), the detailed results are available minutes after your car returns to the parking lot, not only for you, but for anyone with an Internet connection.

If there has to be a change - if a scoring error is detected or changes made to any parameter - a few clicks of the keyboard and the results are instantaneously there.

It’s brilliant.

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