Steelback Targa Newfoundland Leg 2: Competition heats up in Exploits region

ST JOHN'S (September 11, 2007) -- It's only the second day, and already the Steelback Targa Newfoundland taking its toll on competitors.

Mechanical trouble claimed a number of contenders Tuesday as teams took to the Exploits region. The six-day schedule makes the Steelback Targa Newfoundland one of the most taxing automotive events on the continent. Targa Veterans know that both the teams and their competition vehicles must remain in top form throughout the contest in order to secure a strong finish.

"Today is only Tuesday," noted five-time participant Glen Clarke during a mid-day lunch break at the scenic Ocean View Park near the village of Leading Tickles. "Anything can happen by Friday."

Among the teams struggling on Tuesday were Dyrk Bolger and Terry Milnes of Manitoba. The duo suffered engine trouble in their 1963 Austin Mini and ended the day in a fight to return to the race. It was expected they could source a new engine from St. John's overnight, but it was unclear how much of the contest they would miss before they could install it.

Also battling mechanical trouble were John and Clarke Paynter. The brothers are veteran Targa competitors for the factory Subaru Targa Rally Team Canada and pilot one of the top-spec vehicles in the contest, a crowd pleasing Subaru WRX STi. But an apparent manifold leak cost them precious seconds on Tuesday and, by day's end, their crew of mechanics were working hard to return the car to fighting form.

The team of Ian Glyn-Jones and Emmett McKay-Lodge, meanwhile, just couldn't seem to catch a break. After suffering trouble with a driveshaft during the Prologue stages in St. John's on Sunday, they spent most of Monday sourcing and replacing the broken part. On Tuesday's first stage in Glenwood, it happened again. A local machine shop was able to use a fencepost to fashion a temporary replacement driveshaft in order to get them through the day, but the duo were still under pressure to find a more permanent solution.

Despite all the trouble, however, there were plenty of competition cars on hand to give spectators in Gander a good show when the contest moved to the streets of that community Thursday evening. Local resident Sheila Sheppard said 2007 was her third year as a spectator and she, her son and his fiancee always enjoy watching the contest.

"It's just great excitement," she said Tuesday as a growling Porsche 911 sped past her carefully chosen vantage point on a neighbour's front lawn. "It's like something you see on TV, but now it's here in real life. The kids just love it and it's a good boost for the economy and good advertising for Newfoundland."

And there was good news from at least one team. The 1983 BMW M3 campaigned by Dennis Pippy and Levi Pippy that was damaged after it spun off slick wooden bridge into a ditch in Gooseberry Cove on Monday is expected to return to the event on Wednesday. It appears that the incident was not enough to keep the American team away from the thrill of this automotive adventure.

Such are the ups and downs that make this contest so rewarding said Jim Kenzie, who has competed at every running of Targa Newfoundland. The driver of BMW Mini's factory entry, a 2004 Mini John Cooper Works, he says he looks forward each year to the opportunity to explore Newfoundland -- as well as the limits of his peppy competition car.

"You come into Leading Tickles and-- Wow, look at it," he said with an appreciative wave toward the dramatic rocky cliffs and serene cove beachfront that make up the picnic area of Ocean View Park. "It's unbelievable."

Kenzie, who hails from Milton, Ont., but travels the world for his work as an automotive journalist, added that he considers the scenic stops in Goosberry Cove, Harbour Mille and Burin (which he quips is like Monaco without the castles) among the highlights of the week.

By the end of Leg 2, not a single team remained penalty free. All had failed to meet their assigned target times -- although Roy Hopkins and Adrienne Hughes they were barely short of their goal. By day's end, preliminary results showed the duo in the colourfully sponge-painted 1969 BMW 2002 sitting in first-place overall, having taken only two seconds of penalty,

"It's gotten a little more difficult every year," noted Hughes, who hails from Spencerpoint, NY. "I'm just thrilled to death to be in this position right now."

But, as Clarke noted, anything can happen in the three remaining days of competition. "Last year we won because other people made mistakes and we didn't," he said. "There is a lot of racing left."

Clarke, who is the defending overall champion, suffered electrical trouble in his 1979 Porsche 911 that cost him some time during the first leg on Monday. After diagnosing the problem, he was able to return to the contest on Tuesday and he said he was still confident he could defend his 2006 overall win.

While there is no prize money, teams comprised of a driver and a navigator are competing for Targa plates, as well as class and divisional titles. 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.

For a second day on Tuesday, crowds of local fans and autograph seekers crowded into the Gander Community Centre to get close to the cars and mingle with the drivers -- and the NHL veterans who are traveling with the contest in 2007. Phil Esposito, Eddie Shack, Bill Derlaso and Johnny Bower are in Newfoundland this week to take in the Steelback Targa Newfoundland.

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.

The sixth-annual running of the event starts and ends in St. John's. It covers 2,200 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland.

On Sunday, the event began with a pair of preliminary stages -- known as Prologue stages -- in the communities of Flatrock and Torbay near St. John's. On Monday, the event traveled to the North Avalon region. Day 2 featured six stages in the Exploits area, visiting Glenwood, Lewisporte, Point Leamington, Leading Tickles, and Appleton, before wrapping up in Gander for a second night in the row.

On Wednesday, the contest moves to the Kittiwake Coast as several weather systems converge on the province, bringing cold wet weather that could make traction a challenge for teams.

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.

-credit: www.targanewfoundland.com