Steelback Targa Newfoundland: Big changes during Leg 4
MARYSTOWN, NL (Sept. 13, 2007) -- Steelback Targa Newfoundland veterans know that everything changes in Leg 4.
After days of grueling competition, escalating fatigue among drivers, co-drivers, and their competition machines mean cars break, teams crash, communication breaks down and, at the end of the day, the leader board is wide open.
With only one day of competition remaining, two front-runners have dropped right out of the game and three teams that had been trailing all week are now locked in a virtual tie for third place.
But even as the competition has heated up, the veteran team of Roy Hopkins and Adrienne Hughes have managed to remain cool-headed. The Spencerport, NY, duo topped the overall standings for a fourth day in a row on Thursday.
"I think experience helps," said driver Hopkins. "Communication is everything."
The team, who finished fifth overall in 2006 in their Classic division 1969 BMW 2002, said they plan to take a conservative approach to Friday's final leg of the contest in an effort to avoid making a mistake that could cost them the lead.
"We're in survival mode at this point," noted co-driver Hughes. "We're just going to do our best to make sure we get through the rest of the stages."
Meanwhile, two teams that had been comfortably in the top-five at the start of the leg had dropped well back in the standings by day's end -- one due to mechanical trouble, and the other due to a crash.
Americans Chip Brunner and Will Pearson started the day in second place in their 1965 Ford Shelby Mustang, but suffered transmission failure. Their Classic division rivals Gord Ross and Dan Coomber, of Woodstock, ON, offered them a clutch from their 1972 Volvo P1800 ES -- which the team was trying to fit during the overnight stop in Marystown. But after dropping back into eighth overall with just one day of competition to go, their chances of regaining a podium position were slim.
And after starting the leg fourth overall, novice Texans Nick Papayianis and Will Atkinson crashed out of contention late in the day. The Targa novices in their 1988 BMW M3 had become the dark-horse team to watch in the Modern division, but an off-road excursion during a narrow and technical section of Garnish road put them out of the running.
"All it takes is one mistake to catch you out," said Papayianis, surveying the considerable front-end damage to his car with a woeful shake of his head. "It's all my fault."
Despite the incident, this plucky duo still hopes to cross the finish line in St. John's on Friday. While their competitors filtered back to their hotels for a much-needed overnight rest, the crew set up work lights outside the Marystown Arena and remained with their car, working hard to straighten it out.
"We just want to get it across the finish," said Atkinson. "We'll be crossing the line without a hood or a fender, but at least we'll finish."
Defending champion Glen Clarke and co-driver Evan Gamblin, both of Ontario, also dropped out of contention on Thursday, citing engine trouble with their 1979 Porsche 911.
The attrition at the front of the pack put Michael MacKenzie and Kirk Alexander in second-place overall by day's end in their 1969 Camaro. Tim Sanderson and Stan Carmichael were nipping at their heels in a 1981 Porsche 911 SC, while Dyrk Bolger and Terry Milnes, of Manitoba, had piloted their 1963 Austin Mini Cooper S into a fourth-place tie with Ontarians Jud Buchanan and Jim Adams in their 1967 Acadian Canso Sport Coupe. Also still in the running was the team of Ross/Coomber in their Vovlo. All of the top-five overall cars were in the Classic division.
Novices Bolger and Milnes, of Manitoba, have had a solid run in their tiny Mini, overcoming some small teething problems with their newly built car early in the week.
"The car is a blast," said Milnes. "You have to forgo creature comforts, though. There's just enough space for a water bottle and a granola bar in there."
The factory Mazda entry of Jeff McKague and Mike Gayowski were leading the Modern division, and in 7th overall in their Mazda RX-8, but at least two other teams were within striking distance Thursday.
"It isn't a dress rehearsal at this point," said driver Scott Giannou, who was just a second behind McKague, with a day of competition remaining.
The Grand Touring competition was no less intense -- although at a slightly more sedate pace. Alan Kearley and Greg Martin were in the lead by day's end on Thursday in their Mazda 3 Sport GT 04.
All scores are considered provisional until after the conclusion of the contest.
The Steelback Targa Newfoundland is the first and only event of its kind in North America. It is one of three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world and is listed on the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA) international calendar.
Teams are competing for Targa plates, as well as class and divisional titles. There is no prize money, but all finishers receive a medallion. Entries are divided into categories -- the faster-paced Targa category, where teams must achieve ambitious speed targets, and the more moderate Grand Touring division, which rewards precision driving. Teams may also pursue the automotive adventure in the Targa Tour category.
After a pair of Prologue stages for a warm-up in St. John's on Sunday (Sept. 9), crews began their competition in earnest on Monday and have been battling hard for four days. The challenging course takes competitors across 2,200 kilometers of some of the toughest tarmac roads in Canada. Teams, comprised of a driver and a navigator, are fighting to achieve increasingly ambitious target times that challenge them to extend themselves, and their cars, to the limit.
After leaving St. John's, the competition traveled to the North Avalon Region for Leg 1 on Monday, the Exploits region for Tuesday's Leg 2, and the Kittiwake Coast on Wednesday for Leg 3. Thursday's Leg 4 followed a route along the Burin Peninsula -- with competitive sections in the communities of Little Bay East, Harbour Mille, Mooring Cove, Marystown, Garnish, Fortune, Frenchman's Cove, before returning for an overnight stop to Marystown. The competition heads to the Avalon region on Friday for its final seven stages and wraps up with a party in St. John's Sunday night.
Complete coverage of the event airs on Global TV and the Speed Network in early 2008. The 2008 running of Targa Newfoundland is set to take place September 13 - September 20.