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Targa Newfoundland Wrap-Up Story

 

Toronto Star Wheels - Saturday, September 28, 2002

 

by Jim Kenzie

 

ST. JOHN’S Newfoundland - Teams from Australia, the United States and Canada took top honours in the first Targa Newfoundland rally which ended here last Saturday.

Len and Gayle Cattlin, from Melbourne Australia, drove their 1967 Mustang GT to victory in the “Classic” division, which encompasses cars built between 1946 and 1976.

The father-and-son team of John and Andrew Lawson, from South Yarra Australia, led the Historic division (cars built prior to 1946) in a magnificent 1938 Alfa Romeo Mille Miglia Spyder.

Bill Arnold and Tamara Hull from San Raphael California topped the Modern division (cars built after 1976) in their 1999 BMW M-Coupe.

Alan and Carolyn Ryall, of Halton Hills (Georgetown) Ontario - the rally capital of the world, as we shall soon see - dominated the Trials (time-and-distance) division in their Subaru Impreza WRX.

 

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While there is no official “overall” winner of a Targa rally, the division winner with the fewest penalty points is generally accorded the top step of the podium - and that was the Cattlins.

It took them a long time, and they came a long way, but they finally won a Targa event - they are long-time contenders in the Targa Tasmania, which provided the model for the Targa Newfoundland.

But this was their first overall victory.

The car has been converted to right-hand drive - a surprisingly popular modification in Australia; the Ozzies love their rear-drive V8 power as much or maybe even more than Americans do.

It is also meticulously maintained, which is typical of Targa cars - a bit surprising, considering the torture they go through in six days of rallying.

The engine compartment looks like no 1960s Mustang you’ve ever seen, having been fitted with fuel injection. Cattlin says it produces about 465 horsepower and about the same number of lb.-ft. of torque. Adequate, as Rolls-Royce used to say.

 

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Second overall and second in Classic was the 1965 Ford Mustang of Lennox McNeely and Jeremy Hill, both from Toronto. This car has also completed a long-distance rally in South America, and another that went from Finland to Jordan - yes, vintage rally people are that crazy...

There was some controversy at the start of the rally over what tires were legal for this event - a protest was actually filed over the rubber on one of the Australian entries, but it was denied.

The McNeely-Hill Mustang was hardly part of that - it arrived in Newfoundland needing new tires, so they went to Canadian Tire in St. John’s, bought a set of Michelins, and went racing. Can’t get much more “street-legal” than that...

 

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Completing an all-‘60s-Ford-V8 podium - third overall and third in Classic - was the 1964 Ford Falcon Rally Sprint, owned and navigated by Mark Williams of North Potomac Maryland, and driven by reigning Canadian rally champion Tom McGeer. Yes,  from Halton Hills (Georgetown) Ontario.

McGeer provided the first “incident” of the event on the demonstration runs on the Sunday before the rally began, looping the Falcon into a curb, which tripped the car over onto its driver’s side.

The impact barely scratched the sheet metal, but it did the rear axle no good whatsoever.

The car was barely back on its four wheels before offers of help began pouring in - “Me bruder’s got one of dose out on de farm!...” - so typical of the spirit and helpfulness of Newfoundlanders.

Junkyards were polled, a sand blaster brought his equipment to a shop at 11 p.m. that evening to clean up some scavenged parts, an auto parts supply store opened its doors at midnight - on a Sunday - so seals, gaskets and the like could be sourced.

The car was back in the running by the second Prologue stage on Monday.

The Falcon was second overall going into the final day. On the very last stage, a supposedly slow one designed primarily to show the cars off to the St. John’s finish line crowd, the rear brakes locked up on a corner - a left-over from the week-earlier semi-roll-over. The engine stalled, and the time McGeer/Williams lost allowed the McNeely/Hill Mustang to slip ahead of them by mere seconds.

This incident points out the essential fact of a Targa rally - it is a long-distance marathon; a mistake early on can cost you later. You never know until you get to the finish line.

 

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Which, sadly, only the front spoiler of Jack MacDonnell’s lovely 1976 Datsun 280Z did. Navigator Carson Rasmussen blames himself for not getting the “caution call” to Jack in time for the hard right-hander in the final day’s third stage, but the driver of a rally car is the one turning the wheel - blame appropriation plays little part in this sport.

In any event, the car slammed head-first into a steel sea-wall, cleverly placed so that only a small part of the car actually ended up in the Atlantic Ocean (the incident was captured on video).

The popular MacDonnell was taken to hospital overnight for examination. No broken bones, but he underwent an MRI to ensure there is no nerve damage; at time of writing I hadn’t heard the diagnosis, but he should be fine.

Rasmussen was unhurt, and hand-carried the largest piece of the car he could lift - that front spoiler - across the finish line. The team was awarded finishing medals, but the Targa Trophy, presented to any car which completes all the Targa (high-speed) stages within prescribed time limits, eluded their grasp - this time; both men say they will be back.

 

(Ed. Note: a few weeks after the event, MacDonnell’s neck is still stiff, but he’s still planning on returning next year...)

 

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So where did the valiant 1971 Volvo 142S of Doug Mepham and yours truly place?

Fourth overall, I’m prouder than I probably should be to say. Also, fourth in the Classic division, and second in the “Limited Modified” Classic class to the Cattlins.

It was also the first non-Ford (Volvo is owned by Ford now; it wasn’t when this car was built), first non-V8, first non-American car, first four cylinder, first under 200 hp...

Oh; did I mention that I live in Halton Hills? That our Volvo was built by the Sprongl brothers, of Halton Hills? And that rallymeister Ross Wood is from nearby Milton, also in the Halton region? Something in the water, you suspect?...

Our run was hampered by an on-going starting problem. We diagnosed a bad battery - a new one didn’t help.

We diagnosed a problem with the ignition switch - bypassing that didn’t help.

Finally, in Gander, it seemed it had to be the starter solenoid.

Bill Arnold, who won the Modern division is his BMW, owns a BMW repair shop in California. He told us that just about all Bosch starters have one of two solenoid designs - any auto electric shop that has ever worked on a BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo, just about any European car, would probably have one.

But in Gander Newfoundland?

At lunch that day, we had asked the magical Teralynn, our “CROW” (nickname for “Competitor Relations Officer”) if she could find someone who could help. She got on the phone to Gander, and everyone there told her, “Go see J and J Enterprises” - that’s Glen Granville’s do-it-all general contracting and auto-electric business.

Mechanic Darren Bursey greeted us at the final stop of the day. We whipped out the starter (well, “whipped” is a bit of a stretch...). Darren was sceptical that he would have such a part.

Still, he took the starter back to the shop, indeed found a solenoid that would fit, and within an hour, we were back in The Show.

Amazing.

Thank you.

 

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Fellow journalist Bob English entered a bog-stock Kia Rio RX-V, partnered by first-time rallier and local St. John’s radio personality Ken Ash.

Surely the competition highlight for them was recording a time on one long, straight stage that exceeded the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile - the world governing body of motorsport) regulation that no rally stage can have an average speed higher than 132 km/h.

The team took a penalty for this, but probably served their car supplier better by doing so.

I can see the ad campaign now: “Kia Rio - the economy car that’s just too fast for international rallying...”

(Guys, you know where you can send the royalty cheque...).

The non-competition highlight for this team was surely the sight of Bob dancing a jig atop a steel bollard on George Street in downtown St. John’s at the official end of the event. I don’t think Bob English even danced at his own wedding - the original of the photo I took can be made available at the right price...

(Listen - I have to pay for next year’s entry somehow...)

 

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The Lawsons’ 1938 Alfa Romeo Mille Miglia Spyder didn’t have a lot of competition in the Historic division - they were the only official entrant.

But to make a division, the 1951 Citroen Traction Avant of Edison Wiltshire was re-classified to Historic because it was built using 1930s technology.

Wiltshire, the official chaplain of the Targa Newfoundland, earned the nickname “The Faster Pastor”...

The Lawsons had to overcome a blown piston in the final stages to get to the finish and take their prize.

Any other owner of a monumentally valuable automobile such as this would have just put it on the trailer; John and Andrew limped home on five cylinders, risking further internal damage to the oily bits, just to complete the challenge.

They had topped the leader board for much of the rally; their engine woes eventually dropped them to 11th overall.

 

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Bill Arnold and Tammy Hull had driven their BMW M-Coupe east from California earlier in the year to compete in Car and Driver magazine’s “One Lap of America” event. They left the car there, returned home, flew back two weeks ago to retrieve the car, drove/ferried it to Newfoundland, and won the “Modern” division.

The car’s odometer is calibrated in miles, so Tammy had a lot of work to do each morning before they even fired the car up, converting all the distances to kilometres.

She is an experienced rally navigator, he’s the owner of a BMW repair shop and a talented “shoe”, all of which helps explain their top-rank performance.

The lovely silver Bimmer looked decidedly incongruous in the parking lot of the Fairmont Hotel after the event, rally decals all still in place, with a roof-rack luggage on top, ready for the trip home...

They are driving it back to New Hampshire, from which it will be trucked back to California.

 

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The Modern division and possibly the overall crown was expected to go to the massively talented and experienced team of Mark Saxby and Martin Rees of Launceston Tasmania, in their massively fast Porsche 911 Turbo. But about one-quarter of the way into the final stage of Day Three through the streets of a residential subdivision of Gander, a valve made all-too-intimate contact with a piston, which pooched the motor.

As helpful as Newfoundlanders were to drivers in distress, there weren’t any spare parts for a car like this in Gander.

In his welcoming address to the Targa, the mayor of Gander joked that the cost of cleaning up the oil spill would be about $5,000. Saxby replied, “You’ve got it, if you’ll pay for my motor...”

 

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It’s hard to beat “zero” in rallying, and Alan and Carolyn Ryall (need I remind you, of Halton Hills) cleared every single stage in the Trials division in their Subaru WRX.

Alan has considerable rallying experience, but this was Carolyn’s first time behind a rally odometer for many years - a time-out for family-raising.

At the awards banquet, Alan noted that on Day Two, his wife said those words that every spouse wants to hear: “Darling, why don’t you put a roll cage in this car and go in the performance division next year?”

Say no more...

 

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It’s a sentiment that was heard from at least a third of the Trials competitors. Terry DaSilva and Rudy Stohr of Mississauga did their first ever rally in DaSilva’s pristine (23,000 kilometres) bought-from-new MGB; he plans to outfit his Opel GT to enter the performance ranks of the Targa Newfoundland next year.

 

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As helpful as Newfoundlanders were to competitors in this event, they don’t have a lock on Good Samaritanism.

Jud Buchanan (from guess where? Of course; Halton Hills...) blew the clutch on his beautiful 1967 Acadian Canso on Thursday, on the way into Gander.

Buchanan’s car is a custom-built piece; there aren’t many off-the-shelf parts that are going to fit, especially off shelves in Gander Newfoundland.

So the Toronto-based director of the “Show Kids You Care’‘ foundation, a primary sponsor of Buchanan’s effort, fetched himself up on the doorstep of Euro Drive Clutches in Burlington Ontario at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning, waited while they custom-made a clutch assembly for the car, drove to the Toronto airport, put the bits aboard an Air Canada plane bound (eventually) for Gander.

Jud’s crew took them from there, fixed the car, and it completed the run back into St. John’s to gain well-deserved finishing medals for Buchanan and co-driver Peter Wright.

 

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All the competitors were simply stunned by the hospitality of the people of Newfoundland during this event. We have shared only a handful of the stories with you here; in every car there were at least three tales to tell - the driver’s, the navigator’s, and the car’s.

In previous stories on Targa Newfoundland over the past year, I have suggested that if you have a car that is set up for rallying, you must try this event. If you don’t have such a car, get one.

For the Trials division (to be called “Touring’‘ next year), you can run any car you want - everything from a 1958 Corvette to a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee showed up this year.

If you have never run a rally in your life, you won’t be alone - neither had several of the competitors in this year’s Targa Newfoundland.

Check out www.targanewfoundland.com for information on how to enter.

 

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To the organizers and all their staff; to the literally thousands of volunteers who marshalled and scored the event - most of whom had never seen a rally before, let alone officiated at one; to the  civic organizations who organized meals and entertainment for the travelling circus this event proved to be; to the police, ambulance, fire and paramedic crews who helped keep us safe; to the Canadian Forces who provided invaluable communications assistance out in the  boonies; to the local and provincial governments, without whose support this could never have happened; mostly, to the people of Newfoundland, who allowed their communities to be disrupted just so we could have some fun - “Thank You” just doesn’t seem to cover it, but it’s all our language can offer...

 

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For detailed official results of the Targa Newfoundland, log on to www.rallyscoring.com, click on “Rally Results”, then follow the link to Targa Newfoundland 2002.

 

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