Targa Newfoundland 2006 – Winners!
The fights went down to the wire on the 5th and final leg of this 5th annual Targa. When all was counted, Jim Kenzie and Brian Bourbonniere were winners again in the Unlimited class and got their precious ‘Gold Plate’ too.
For the second year in a row, our Mini Cooper S JCW has won the Unlimited category in this tough five-day rally over 2220 kilometres of challenging Newfoundland roads.
The joy of our entire team – navigator Brian Bourbonniere, team manager Kyle Wierzbicki, and technicians Mark Krajnak and Telmo Pombo, was tempered only slightly by the fact that our win was achieved by misfortune of others, as the two other teams we were battling with for the lead all week both crashed out on the last day.
Our strategy throughout was that Brian didn't tell me how we were doing, I didn't ask, nor did I even look at the results during the week.
The idea there is that I can only drive so fast – probably about seventy per cent of what this car is capable of. And if I knew that we were, say, a minute out of the lead at the start of Day Five, it might put more pressure on me to try and make up the difference, which would surely lead to tears…
That in fact was how we started Friday.
Sticking to The Plan
The 1999 Ford Mustang of Dr. Robert Pacione and Bryan Maxwell was ahead by a little over a minute. It was a lead they took on Day One, and with minor variations back and forth, was pretty much constant all week.
And our 45-second lead over the third place Datsun 510 of Bob and Chris Esseltine was also more or less constant. They took a bite out of that lead during the hurricane on Wednesday; we reclaimed much of that in the dry on Thursday.
So Friday would tell the tale.
The first stage was a long, scenic and challenging run to the tiny fishing village of Harbour Mille, the population of which we basically doubled when our circus pulled into town.
We had a great, great run…
We were staged behind the fast twin-turbo Toyota Supra of Richard Kimber and Brian Kane, with Esseltine behind us and Pacione behind him.
Remember, the cars start at thirty-second intervals.
A couple of scenes of our in-car camera video of this stage may not make the final edit – the fact that the Supra had lost one turbocharger, and was well down on power, and the fact that the stage was scrubbed due to a big crash near the end of the stage, which didn't meant that no times were taken.
(Rats; we think we did very well…).
But the tape WILL show our little Mini blowing past the Supra…
After breakfast, we ran back out the Harbour Mille stage. This time we snuck out ahead of the stricken Toyota – it isn’t really a problem to get past someone, especially a driver as good and aware as Kimber.
But we figured: we had to deal with it on the way up; let's see if Esseltine or Pacione could deal with it on the way down.
We had another good run, and waited at the end to see if anyone had got past Kimber.
We didn't see Esseltine, then Pacione arrived. We didn't have much time to transit to our next stage, so we carried on.
One Strong Challenger Out
We didn't find out until lunch that Esseltine had crashed big time on the out run from Harbour Mille. I haven't spoken with either crew member, but Andrew Comrie-Picard, who is hosting this year's Targa video, said Esseltine admitted to going into a left-hander too hot, and ran off the road. Both father Bob and son Chris are fine, but the car was too badly damaged to continue.
A genuine shame, because the car is sensational, both men are fine people, other members of the family were here to participate in the adventure, and they had a good run going.
Our sincerest sympathy to them all.
So it was Pacione and us for the final afternoon.
We actually zeroed a couple of the tight, twisty town stages for the final leg of the rally – yet another testimony to how well this brilliant little car handles.
But we didn't know if we were making up time on Pacione or not…
We completed the final stage, and Brian finally admitted that we had been second all week.
This wasn't so bad. In a car you can buy from any Mini retailer, to come second to a heavily-modified V8-powered car with something like twice as much horsepower as ours did?
We can't be too upset with that.
Then, the leading Mustang …
Then Ryan Kloosteman, co-driver with his father Tony in a Subaru WRX STi which had fallen out of contention earlier in the week with a broken drive shaft, came running up to our car to tell us that Pacione had crashed on the very last stage.
We had won…
I spoke with Dr. Pacione later. Turns out he was having brake troubles. On the first hard lefthander on the very last stage, he hit the binders, the pedal went to the floor, the rear brakes locked up, and the car backed into the ditch. Failure to complete the stage generated enough penalties to knock him down to the second step of the podium.
Pacione's teammates, Rick Macleod and Steve McKelvie, finished third in the Open category in Rock's bright orange metalflake Mustang.
It was a particularly difficult way for Dr. Pacione to lose an event – the very last stage of a long, five-day event. They have a great team – huge, to be sure, with a massive motorhome and support trailer.
But Pacione and Macleod were raising money for Multiple Sclerosis which Macleod had contracted earlier this year. Their team was more focused than ever before, yet always put on a good show for the fans.
To Finish First…
It feels a little bit as if we backed in to this victory. On the other hand, the oldest cliché in motorsport is: to finish first, first you have to finish.
Our engine didn't blow up on Monday, like the heavily-favoured Subaru WRX STi of Pat Richard and Clarke Paynter.
Our engine didn't blow up on Monday, like the heavily-favoured Subaru WRX STi of Pat Richard and Clarke Paynter.
We didn’t rip a half-shaft out of our car on Wednesday like the Kloostermans did.
We didn’t crash out of the rally on Friday morning.
And while we too had a bit of a brake problem Friday – at very high speeds (190 km/h plus) we developed a high frequency vibration upon initial brake application; vibrating brakes are never a fun thing – Mark and Telmo (our mechanics) swapped out the rotors at lunch – in about ten minutes.
So when we needed brakes for that first corner of the last stage, they were there for us…
From Brian and me, our sincerest thanks to the entire Mini organization for giving us the opportunity to achieve this victory.
It truly was a team win.
Team manager Kyle Wierzbicki was what I call our "shit absorber" – whatever issues arose, especially when our second team car crashed out on the very first stage of Day One, he simply took them all on, leaving us to get on with our jobs.
The two techies – Mark on his fourth Targa, Telmo on his first – became a team within a team. The soft-spoken Krajnak and the more extroverted Pombo seemed to complement each other.
They never had anything but a smile on their faces, even when we asked if they could change our front tires for the second half of hurricane-laced Wednesday. As Brian Bourbonniere put it, the rain was "horizontal", but the lads went about their business with despatch.
Stephen McDonnell, Director of Mini Canada, and Munich-based Daniella Misitano, head of marketing for Mini for the Americas (North, Central and South) both arrived to share and celebrate our surprise win. Support from the top is essential to the success of any endeavour…
Brian and I also make a great team within a team.
I never shut up; he never says a word…
I completely delegate every decision to him – when to go, where to stop, who to butt in front of in the starting line up.
He is the best.
This leaves me to simply try to keep the Mini on the island.
Seems to work…
What are that Mini’s Secrets?
One thing Brian and I did chat about from time to time on those long transit stages: we give away a couple of hundred horsepower to the Mustangs, although they give away about 500 kilograms to us.
We were at least 100 horsepower down on the Datsun, and about 200 kilograms up. Against the Subarus, we were down anywhere from 200 to 300 horsepower, and two driven wheels.
So, how does the Mini Cooper S JCW go so fast?
I know that, with the supercharger filling in any gaps in the torque curve, there aren't many cars that can pull out of the corners or get to the rally maximum of 200 km/h a whole lot faster than we can. Even if they get there two or three seconds sooner, we can make that up in braking or cornering.
Telmo Pombo said that when he saw our car come through the town stages, it seemed to him like "it was on rails". The other cars seemed to slide and fishtail, losing ground – and time – as they did so.
Maybe it was because they had to drive harder than I did. I wonder how quick a really good rally driver could make this thing go.
Brian suggested that our car's small size also gave us an advantage in the tighter sections – we could actually take a "racing line" through the tighter corners – start outside, come semi-close to the apex, and get on the power early on the exit.
The larger cars had no such option. They almost had to come to a complete stop – seat back and tray table in the locked and upright position – make the corner, then get on the gas.
One thing that has always been true about this car: It is so easy to drive quickly. It will understeer under power, but I just have to lift, the car's nose tucks in, and away we go.
It is as reliable as a brick through a plate glass window – in the hockey rinks where we spend each evening; most of the other cars are up on stands, hoods up, mechanics swarming around them.
We have it washed, Mark and Telmo check everything over, and we go to dinner.
Mark put in a new clutch disc before this year's event – the original, after two Targas, still had about 70 per cent of its life let.
New rotors, new brake pads – let's go rallying.
I'd say 90 per cent of our competitors refuse to believe that this car is stock. Modified Mustangs magazine did a feature on Dr. Pacione's Mustang a few months ago, and mentioned how it had been pounded by a "heavily-modified Mini" in last year's Targa.
Er… Not so's you'd notice.
Mark tells me that the cylinder head has never been off the car since it was built for the 2004 Targa.
There still are no rattles or squeaks in the car. It feels like it could go do another Targa tomorrow.
And we haven’t put a scratch on the car in three Targas so far (OK, the underside doesn't count…).
Personally, that may be the thing I am most proud of.
It is simply the most amazing little beast.
Thanks, also, to Frank and Dan Sprongl at Four Star Motorsports in Georgetown Ontario for building the car in the first place, and prepping it for the subsequent events. These multi-time rally championship winning guys are the best at what they do, anywhere in North America.
The Fights for top Honours
There were battles throughout the field in this year's Targa Newfoundland. Again, virtually from the start of the event, three teams appeared to be strong contenders for the overall championship.
This is a new official designation this year, applied to the team which wins its category – Classic, Modern or Open – with the fewest penalty points.
I say "official'" because for the first four years of Targa, the competitors always viewed the lowest point gainer as the overall champion, even though it was never formally recognized.
Since our Mini Cooper S JCW was basically stock, and was in the fastest category with the hardest-to-make times, we took more penalties than the other category leaders, and were never in contention for the overall win.
Jud Buchanan, driving his fantastic 1967 Acadian Canso Sport Coupe with first-time co-driver Jim Adams in Classic; Keith Townsend and Jen Horsey in a Subaru WRX STi in Modern; and Mark Swain and Mike Bell in a fantastically fast Corvette Z06, also in Modern, were never more than a few seconds apart throughout the week.
Again, it would all come down to Friday.
On one stage, Swain and Bell got a little bit lost and took about a minute in penalties. That pretty much eliminated them from the Overall title hunt.
Jud Buchanan's transmission started acting up, again on the very last stage. "I think I have third gear," he told me before the start.
However many gears he had, it wasn't enough. He finished second, both in Classic, and Overall.
That seemed to leave Townsend and Horsey in the catbird's seat; I'm not sure what happened to them, but when the final numbers were tallied, they were on top in Modern, but third Overall.
Glen Clarke and Evan Gamblin in a Porsche 911, had a series of mechanical issues throughout the week. But they still always managed to stay on time, and on course. This Ottawa-based crew took the Classic category and the Overall title.
In the Grand Touring time-and-distance competition, again it was a week-long battle between several teams, at least three of which were still "zeroed" through Day Three.
In the end, Bruce Terris and Andy Proudfoot from Gander Newfoundland took the "Equipped" crown, meaning they had a rally computer in their 1991 Subaru Legacy.
In Unequipped, Alan Townsley from Palisades New York and David Fuhrmann from Norwood New Jersey were drenched in bubbly as the winners in their Factory Five Cobra replicar – that convertible was a particular treat to drive in the hurricane on Wednesday…
Congratulations, also, to every team which showed up, every team which finished, every team which won something.
Because everyone won something…
photo: Harvey/Patterson for Team VDG
I know several people – including myself – who are better for what they have experienced at Targa Newfoundland over the years.
"Do before you die" has never been more true than it is for Targa Newfoundland…
Wrapping it Up
The 2006 Targa Newfoundland is all over except the shouting, the partying, and the planning for next year.
Total entrants were down this year, from 90 to about 75. This is bit confusing – why would anyone with an interest in driving quickly and exercising their cars NOT want to be here?
The field was very strong, though, with many top-quality cars – as the week-long battles for position attest.
To me, the event seems to be evolving into a two-division thing.
"Serious" are those who are really in it to win – a Class trophy, a Category trophy, the Overall title.
"Fun" is for those who just want to finish, win a Targa plate (awarded to any team which completes all timed stages within about 130 per cent of their base time), and just enjoy the roads, the scenery, the hospitality, and the people in this wonderful part of the world.
As long as Targa Newfoundland can continue to attract and service both subsets of their client base, it should have a long and glorious future.
One thing for sure – Mini will be back…
TARGA 2006 LINK – Read ‘Leg Four Battles’
TARGA 2006 LINK – Read ‘Leg Three Monsoon’
TARGA 2006 LINK – Read ‘Leg Two Action’
TARGA 2006 LINK – Read Leg One Drama'
TARGA 2006 LINK – Read the Prologue article
TARGA NEWFOUNDLAND 2006 FAST FACTS
The 5th Anniversary Targa Newfoundland (Sept. 9 to 16) started and ended in St. John’s and covered more than 2,100 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland over six days, including more than 400 kilometres of closed-road, flat-out Targa Stages.
In addition to the two primary competitions for Targa and Grand Touring entries, a new category known as Targa Tour was added for 2006. The latter gave motorsports enthusiasts and collectors of unique and rare vehicles the opportunity to enjoy all that Targa has to offer without the pressure of competition or the need for stringent vehicle preparation.
Competitors came from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Holland, the Bahamas and the U.K. for the first four editions of Targa Newfoundland. Entries continue to arrive daily for the 2006 and 2007 events. Targa Newfoundland is owned and organized by Newfoundland International Motorsports, and is listed on the FIA international motorsports calendar.