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Targa Newfoundland Set to Go

By Jim Kenzie

World Exclusive - The Toronto Star Wheels section


In our story in the May 2001 issue of Prestige Wheels on theTarga Tasmania, "the ultimate tarmac rally" for vintage cars that has been a giant financial boon to Australia's island state, I concluded that the only other place in the world where something like that could be contemplated would be somewhere that needed the tourism dollars, that had lots of roads and not many people, and that had a warm, welcoming population which would appreciate, support and help run something wacky like this.

Being an island would help, since isolation tends to generate independent thinking.

In other words, Newfoundland.

Later this month, a press conference will be held to announce that the first, soon-to-be-annual Targa Newfoundland will take place in September, 2002.

The rally will be run by Newfoundland International Motorsports Limited (hereafter, NIML), a body specifically set up for this event, and Octagon Motorsports, the Tasmania-based division of Octagon International of the U.K., which operates the Targa Tasmania.

Bob Giannou of St. John's, one of two principals in NIML, is a long-time car racer and race organizer - he put together the Formula Atlantic race in St. John's back in the 1976, and has been a multi-decade volunteer official in Canadian motorsports.

Doug Mepham, owner and driver of the 1970 Volvo 142S in which I was ballast for the 2001 Targa Tasmania and a long-time friend of Giannou's, sent the story to Giannou, then called him, asking him for comment.

"What are you talking about?" he asked Mepham.

"Didn't you read the story?"

"Not yet."

"Read it, especially the last paragraph, and call me back."

He did.

The wheels were set in motion.

In a few short months, Giannou and his group have signed a contract with Octagon. They have general agreement from government officials at all levels. They have mapped out a proposed route.

It really looks like this is going to happen.

"Everyone has been incredibly helpful," Giannou told me by telephone. "Roger Grimes, premier of the province. Brian Tobin, now in the federal government but still a force in Newfoundland provincial politics. Kevin Aylward, Minister of Tourism, and Kelvin Pearson, Minister of Justice, for the province. Roger Peart, head of ASN-FIA, Canada's international motorsport governing body. Rob McGuire, General Manager of Octagon in Tasmania. Everybody."

NIML have signed up Tom Snooks, Clerk of the Course for Targa Tasmania - that's like head referee for those of you unfamiliar with motorsport officiating - to fulfill the same function for Targa Newfoundland.

Into the mix they have brought John Large, who initiated the Targa Tasmania over ten years ago, to make sure the principles of the original Targa are upheld.

(Octagon, pursuing higher-buck strategies, is slowly making the Targa Tasmania into a more "professional" event, encouraging more factory support, newer, faster cars and perhaps - although they deny it - pursuing World Rally Championship status. The Targa Newfoundland organizers want to retain the connection with vintage cars which was the Targa Tasmania's initial direction; they feel Large will add balance to the event.)

"Among our strongest supporters have been the Avalon Convention and Visitors Bureau in St. John's, and the Zone Economic Boards across the province," Giannou said. "There are twenty of these, and they are always looking for initiatives that can lead to economic benefits for rural Newfoundland.

"With the proposed route we have mapped out, fully seven of these twenty zones will be impacted. They can help us line up staff, organize volunteers, do training, all the details that an event like this requires.

"It is estimated that the direct benefit of Targa Newfoundland, dollars coming in to the province that otherwise would not be here, will be about five million," Giannou noted. "The 'roll-up' ancillary benefits that result from the event - could double that."

Not bad for an economically-challenged province - most of it in just about nine days.

"To ensure safety and liability issues were covered, the first people I contacted were K and K, the company that insures most motorsport events in this country," said Giannou. "They are on board. We have contacted both the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and the R.C.M.P. They are on board. The rally route planners from Australia suggested we choose the 'knottiest' roads - the twistiest ones - we have, to keep the speeds down. We have lots of those.

"We don't have as many small towns to run the event through as Tasmania does, so spectator safety won't be as big a concern. And the towns we will be going through have been alerted to the revenue-generating potential for this event, so they are on board.

"We're looking at a maximum of 200 entrants the first year. We expect about 75 percent of those will be from off the island."

(Giannou, a St. John's native, did NOT say "from away".)

"Targa Tasmania draws the majority of its 300-odd entrants from only about 25 million people - the combined populations of Australia and New Zealand," said Giannou. "We have about 150 million in the eastern half of North America alone, to get half as many entrants. We don't see that as a problem."

How about 50 or so local entrants?

"Well, rallying may not be a really big deal here right now," he replied, "but we do have a very strong antique car community. We will conduct rally schools in the spring to encourage local people to get those cars out and participate."

It is important to note, said Doug Mepham, my driver in the 2001 Targa Tasmania, that events like these are "not restricted to full-on rally cars like my Volvo.

"In this year's Targa Tasmania," he reminded me, "we had a 1914 Ford Model T board track racer, several brand-new Porsche 911 Turbo four-wheel drives, and everything in between. I mean, everything.

"If the car runs on its own power, passes safety inspection, and has at least some historical significance, chances are there's a class and category for it. 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 with supercharged engine? 1970 AMC Javelin? Mini? BMW? And in previous years, a 1956 Buick? 'No worries', as they say down there.

"One team in this year's Targa had never been in a rally before. The owner had a roll bar, racing seats and safety harnesses installed in his brand-new Porsche Boxster, enlisted the aid of a mate as naviguessor, and they had the time of their lives."

(Say - does anybody know where there's a functioning Manic GT?...)

Giannou outlined the planned schedule. "The event will start on Friday, September 13 - auspicious day, eh? - with a ferry ride for off-shore competitors from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, just like the Targa Tasmania ferry from Melbourne, followed by tech inspection and registration on Saturday.

"There'll be a 'show 'n' shine' event for spectators at Mile One Convention Centre in St. John's on Sunday.

"Monday we'll run the 'prologue', a short stage to seed the field according to speed."

As with Targa Tasmania, the slower cars will run first, so the 'crocodile' contracts as the day wears on, rather than expands. This helps keep the rally on time, and reduces the traffic impact on local communities.

"Tuesday, Day One will run through the North Avalon Peninsula along the Baccalieu Trail, returning to St. John's that evening," continued Giannou.

"Wednesday, the Burin Peninsula, leading to Marystown. Thursday, the Bonavista area along the Discovery Trail to Clarenville. Friday, along the Kittiwake Trail through Gander, and back to Clarenville. Saturday, the toughest leg of the rally, is the Irish Loop into the South Avalon Peninsula, returning to St. John's.

"Sunday, we'll have another show event in Mile One Centre, then the awards banquet that night.

"We will run about 400 - 420 kilometres a day, with about twenty percent of that being timed 'special stages'. We will have fewer stages than Targa Tasmania, but they'll be longer.

"Ross Wood and Jean Bellefleur, who make up one of Canada's most experienced rally-organizing teams, will officially lay the route out. Targa Tasmania experts from Australia will then come up and approve it - we're going to take advantage of all the experience these guys have gained over the ten years of that event."

The next step will be final approval of all the details by various government officials - "Dotting i's, crossing t's, conducting due diligence," explained Giannou.

Then, the formal announcement.

"It's not a one-off deal, either," noted Giannou. "We have signed a five-year contract with all the relevant parties.

"I've been talking this up everywhere I can, ever since Doug Mepham sent me a copy of his Power Point presentation on his and your experience in Tasmania earlier this year.

"We keep getting support and encouragement from different sources," concluded Giannou. "I went to a Rotary Club meeting the other day with my Dad, and met a woman there who was in St. John's to attend her daughter's graduation from Memorial University. She was from Launceston Tasmania, and told me the Targa Tasmania was a huge deal down there, and that her local Rotary Club raised thousands of dollars for their programs from their participation.

"And a couple of people from one of the Zone Economic Boards were attending a program in Dallas Texas, just a couple of weeks ago. They met some government officials from Australia there, mentioned the Targa to them, and those guys were so full of praise for the rally. The Aussies said the Targa had 'saved' Tasmania with the money it brought in."



I'm not sure Newfoundland actually needs 'saving'.

But there's going to be one heck of a party there next September. If you have a car that qualifies, contact Bob Giannou at 709 722 2413 during business hours (remember, it's actually one and half hours earlier in Newfoundland), or fax 709 722 1116.

The web site should be up within a couple of weeks; Giannou will surely have an e-mail address by then.

If you DON'T have a car that qualifies, go get one.

Trust me.

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