Taking on the Targa

What I learned at the 2018 Targa Newfoundland

I figured I wasn’t getting any younger and so this was part of the rationalization for participating in my first Targa Newfoundland.

Some of you have heard of Targa Newfoundland, and some club members have participated in previous years. For those of you who haven’t, it is a week-long, closed-road time/speed/distance competition held annually in rural Newfoundland and covers close to 1500 km’s in six days. As a Newfoundlander from St. John’s and a car nut, Targa has been on my list of things to do for each of the 18 years it has been in existence. Last year, September 2018, I finally took the plunge.

At the most basic level, you need two things to compete in Targa, a co-driver/navigator/partner, and a car. My good friend, and fellow UCR member Jireh Wong was an absolutely perfect partner. Jireh works in finance and is a numbers guy. He had an Excel spreadsheet with all the way points, average speed and time at way points created before we even arrived for the event. He has owned more Porsches than I can remember and currently has a GT3RS in the garage. On top of this, he is mechanically handy and can have four wheels off and changed in the time it would take most people to figure out where to put the jack. And a real nice guy to be stuck with in close quarters for a week. 

As for the car, that would be my 2010 997.2 C4. With limited garage space living in Toronto, the C4 was bought as a compromise car to do everything, drive my child to weekend activities, family road trips and drivers ed. It is not the best Porsche for any of those things, but can do, and has done all the above with aplomb. Knowing that any event over six September days in Newfoundland would likely involve rain and single-digit temperatures, the C4 didn’t seem so much a compromise as an inspired choice. And I realize that it is only on pages such as these that a C4 could ever be considered a compromise.

It was an incredible experience, unique and absolute madness in the best possible way. Along the way we learned a thing or two, about cars, people and ourselves. In no particular order, this is what we learned at Targa Newfoundland 2018:

Porsche makes a tough car

The car took an unbelievable pounding, nothing broke, nothing leaked. No issues whatsoever. Each night would end at a local arena with the locals invited to a car show. Other teams replaced clutches, swapped turbos and in one case did a Subaru engine transplant. We would check tire pressures and torque the wheel nuts. We took the wheels off one night to look at the brakes, not that we thought that we needed to, it just seemed like the thing to do. We were peer-pressured into feigning maintenance. Three cars from the first day did not make it to the end. All three Porsches entered finished. If I had the time I would have happily driven back to Toronto without any worries at all.

150 is Fast

We chose to run in the Grand Touring class as opposed to the flat-out, fully-prepared-car Targa class. Grand Touring is advertised as more sedate and safer and has a 150 kph speed limit enforced with randomly-placed radar guns. I thought, I’m doing 200 plus at the end of the back straight at Mosport, how hard or dangerous can it be? Boy, was I wrong. The difference is that turns eight, nine and ten at Mosport look pretty much identical to the last 100 times you have been through there. When you have never seen the corner before and have no idea what’s around the bend or over the crest and the only run off area is the Atlantic Ocean, 150 is plenty fast.   

The route book marked numerous jumps. We had noted these with multiple asterisks and exclamation marks as I had no interest in getting airborne, or more precisely, I had no interest in landing.

Tires are loud and the best rocket scientists are German

The route book marked numerous jumps. We had noted these with multiple asterisks and exclamation marks as I had no interest in getting airborne, or more precisely, I had no interest in landing. But on day three on what would become my favourite, fast, flowing stage into the town of Burin, I don’t know if I missed a call or wasn’t paying attention, but we went over a sharp crest at the full 150. Silence. You know when you are on the highway in heavy rain and drive under an overpass and for a split second the racket stops? That’s what jumping your car is like. For the briefest moment tire noise goes to zero and you realize that’s its not the engine making all the noise, but rather the rubber donuts at the corners. I braced myself for very expensive crunching sounds. My car has the electronically controlled all wheel drive system that was introduced on the 09 Turbos and C4s. It has all kinds of sensors and systems to shoot the power to the right wheel to keep you alive. I have since wondered what goes through the computer brain when all four wheels instantly have zero traction, the suspension completely unloads and you’re going 150 in fourth? Whatever it thought was the right thing as the car landed soft as a feather, no big deal at all.  

Autocross is better with pylons than with houses 

The last stages take place in a small town called Brigus. It is a beautiful old town, literally one of the oldest in North America. Back in 16 whatever A.D. they made the roads about two horses wide. And not big horses, skinny hungry horses. Imagine a four-minute autocross with houses, picket fences and churches instead of pylons and an average speed of about 90. That’s Brigus. Google Targa Newfoundland Brigus and watch some videos, it’s crazy.

It Pays to Advertise in Provinz

Almost all the money spent to prepare and ship the car found its way into the coffers of Provinz advertisers. Braidan Tire fitted all season 18s in place of the stock 19s and changed the brake fluid, the only modifications made to the car. Doxa Detailing did an amazing job repairing stone chips and installing a clear film on the front half of the car. SRT Carriers took great care in getting the car to the dock in Montreal and back. Nadia at Braidan, Joshua at Doxa and Brad at SRT Carriers all went above and beyond. They are not just in business; they are in a business they love and are true enthusiasts. I recommend them all. 

Twenty years ago, Porsches were rare cars and kids pointed and jumped up and down at the sight of my 944. Now that I see about 17 Porsches on my 10-minute walk to the subway, no one seems to notice. But in rural Newfoundland a Porsche is still a big deal.

Porsches are still cool

Twenty years ago, Porsches were rare cars and kids pointed and jumped up and down at the sight of my 944. Now that I see about 17 Porsches on my 10-minute walk to the subway, no one seems to notice. But in rural Newfoundland a Porsche is still a big deal. Kids, unfailingly polite, would line up to sit in the driver’s seat while their friends took pictures. Trying to be a good role model I developed a routine, “do you know how you get a car like this? Stay in school!” Mom would nod her head while dad would make his way to the back of the car, look under the open engine cover and inform me that the engine was in the wrong place. 

Motorsport is a force for good

Participating in an event like Targa is sufficiently outside of “normal” that people will recognize your efforts. Working with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, we branded our team, “Rallying for Crohn’s and Colitis” and raised over $3,000 for a cause near and dear to me. We sometimes take for granted having not only the resources but also the health to do the things we do in our cars. We should not, and it feels good to use our passions in a way to benefit others in our community. Doing so is in the best traditions of PCA and UCR. 

Newfoundlanders really are the best people in the world

Okay, I’m biased because I’m one of them, but where else in the world will the locals close the roads, encourage a bunch of strangers in loud cars to drive through their communities as fast as possible and then make you lunch at the fire hall? It’s almost too good to be true. 

If you have ever thought of taking part in Targa, you should go ahead and do it. Feel free to reach out if you would like encouragement or the benefit of what meagre insight I can offer. The editor knows where to find me. </>

Story by Andrew Fitzpatrick, PCA UCR Member Photos by Ralph Saulnier

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here