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Demonstration Day - Sunday, Sept. 15, 2002; St. John’s Confederation Park

 

St. John’s Newfoundland - ”Last week, I couldn’t even spell ‘rally’. This week I are in one...”.

Such is the level of experience of some of the competitors in the first Targa Newfoundland, billed as North America’s Ultimate Tarmac Rally.

For others, the preparation consisted of renting “Fast and Furious” from Blockbuster.

So who made the biggest mistake of the demonstration runs through Confederation Park, home of Newfoundland’s Legislative Building complex, on Sunday afternoon?

Only Tom McGeer, perennial Canadian rally champion, who got his co-driver Mark Williams’ 1965 Ford Falcon totally sideways on the last corner of the short sprint, slid broadside into a curb, and rolled the car so gently onto its side that he barely even scratched the decals.

The rear axle?

Well, that’s another story - the impact bent it like the proverbial pretzel.

Such is the camaraderie and spirit of the people of Newfoundland that by the time they got the car back on its four wheels, they had several offers of assistance and spare parts.

Tom and Mark put the car on the trailer and went off in search of spares. They are fully expected to be back Monday morning.

Several thousand spectators showed up to view the cars driving “in anger” for the first time in this six-day event. Monday, the cars will run two “Prologue” stages, designed to determine the relative speed of the cars.

Tuesday through Saturday, the cars will run foot to the floor over a total of over 2,500 km of Newfoundland’s most challenging roads.

In a Targa event, the slower cars run first, while the faster cars catch up, so the “crocodile” of cars gets compacted as the day wears on.

The theory is that the roads, which are closed to the public, will be shut down for the shortest time possible.

At the Drivers Meeting prior to the event, drivers of cars like the Dodge Viper, Ford Mustang and Porsche 911 Turbo, expressed concern that they would be held up by the likes of the stock 1964 Austin Mini Cooper and the 1951 Citroen Traction Avant (if you’re looking for variety, you’ve come to the right rally...).

Organizers will stagger the starts for the faster cars as necessary to keep the event as safe as it can be.

Not only is this the first big-time rally in Newfoundland for - well, maybe forever - it is the first big-league motorsport event of any kind here for over 25 years. Organizers had to train some 1,800 volunteers to marshal the cars and crowds, score the event, do the hundreds of jobs that need doing for an event like this.

Given the level of experience, things went surprisingly well on this, the first day.

The true challenge, for organizers, cars, drivers and crews alike, lies ahead...

 

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