Prologue - Monday, September 16, 2002; St. John’s / Beachy Cove


Car rallying gained about 500 new fans - and maybe a few future rally stars - today, as students of Beachy Cove Elementary School in Portugal Cove/St. Phillip’s Newfoundland braved the rain to give the participants in the Targa Newfoundland an incredible welcome at the lunch stop of the “Prologue Day” for the event.

The cafeteria of the Kindergarten-to-Grade Six school was decorated with posters made by the kids, proclaiming such sentiments as “Targa Rules!” and “Targa Rocks!”

(I think there’s a little Newfoundland joke in there somewhere...).

Very few of the rally participants had ever been peppered with autograph requests before. It’s an experience not even the most jaded rallyists will likely ever forget.

The food was good too...

One young man named Spencer said he knew I was from Ontario “...because you look like Ron McLean of Hockey Night in Canada.”

At least he didn’t say “Don Cherry”...

Another manifestation of Newfoundland hospitality was the treatment afforded perennial Canadian rally champion Tom McGeer and co-driver Mark Williams last night, after McGeer rolled Williams’ 1965 Ford Falcon onto its side during Sunday’s demonstration runs around the Newfoundland provincial government buildings in Confederation Park, badly damaging the rear axle assembly.

By the time the car was back on its four wheels again, offers of help were already pouring in.

Junkyards were polled, a sand blaster brought his equipment to a shop at 11 p.m. 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 - and the car was back in the running by the second Prologue stage on Monday.

The official start of the Targa Newfoundland on Monday morning found Newfoundland Premier Roger Grimes riding shotgun in the rare and valuable 1938 Alfa Romeo Mille Miglia Spyder of John Lawson, from Melbourne Australia. Premier Grimes has been a major supporter of this event from the get-go, for the publicity and tourism dollars it is attracting to the province.

The “Prologue” consists of a couple of fairly short stages over closed roads, designed to determine the relative speeds of the cars so they can be “seeded” for the real rallying, which begins Tuesday.

Unlike a conventional performance rally, the cars in a Targa-type event are run in inverse order of speed, the slower cars first, followed by the faster ones. The idea is that this “collapses” the crocodile of cars, rather than expanding it, so the roads need be closed for the least amount of time possible.

The cars are started at one minute intervals; since the stages are relatively short, there isn’t as much passing as you might expect.

The results of the Prologue indicated that the Australian contingent, with lots of experience in the Targa Tasmania upon which the Targa Newfoundland is modelled, had little trouble adapting to driving on the wrong side of the road, or on the wrong side of the world.

The fastest qualifier is the 1995 Porsche 911 Turbo of Mark Saxby and Martin Rees of Launceston Tasmania, followed by Len and Gayle Cattlin of Melbourne Australia, in their 1967 Ford Mustang.

The biggest surprise of the day was the remarkable showing of John Cassidy IV in a 1994 Subaru Impreza. Despite the monstrous rally driving/fog lamps on the front of this car, it is basically stock, with a modestly-powered 1.8 litre engine.

Cassidy won an entry to the Targa Newfoundland just the weekend previous, as a prize at another rally.

His normal co-driver and crew couldn’t get away on such short notice, so Cassidy drove up from the States on spec, in hopes of finding a co-driver.

Steve Carrick from Ottawa made it a “Can-Am” team by volunteering to navigate. Steve even borrowed my extra driving suit - he hadn't brought his own since he expected to help work the rally, not participate in it. They finished the Prologue in third place, in front of some pretty impressive machinery, such as Jerry Churchill’s huge Viper GT-S coupe.

It rained most of the day, and the combination of low power, four-wheel drive and Cassidy’s skilful driving was just the ticket.

My driver, the quick and tidy Doug Mepham, pedalled his 1971 Volvo 142S to a very respectable ninth spot overall, aided by the amazing grip of the Nokian tires which didn’t seem to know the road surface was wet.

One car did find that out - the hard way. The 1965 Sunbeam Tiger of Jono Fryer and Peter Sullivan, quite literally a basket case only a couple of weeks ago and with only about 280 miles on it prior to arriving in St. John’s, did some high-speed farming on the second Prologue stage. Jono re-aggravated a recurring back muscle spasm problem, but otherwise, the occupants were shaken rather than stirred.

The car wasn’t so lucky. Suspension damage and perhaps some frame tweaking are being investigated as I type; we’ll see if another Newfoundland all-nighter can have it back in the field by Tuesday, or if the Targa Newfoundland has claimed its first victim.

The rally has generated its first round of controversy. The aforementioned Jerry Churchill, Detroit-born, Windsor-raised and once again a resident of Michigan, was quoted in today’s St. John’s Telegram complaining about the quality of the road surfaces in the St. John’s area.

And this guy is from MICHIGAN!!?!...


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