It's been a month... [Save draft]
It's now been three months since we raced at the Sweet Sixteen edition of Targa Newfoundland. At lot has happened since then - we've completed our 3-3-30 Plan and, in the process, moved across the Atlantic Ocean start a new job in the UK. While it's very late, hopefully you'll find the recap of Targa Newfoundland 2017 below actually is "better late than never".
I arrived in my home town in western Newfoundland on Tuesday, September 5. That gave me a few days before heading across the island to visit family and help with last minute car preparations. There was a little bit of work to do...
Removal of the roof and doors allowed better access to remove seats and sensitive electronics for proper winter storage. The car also sat on some borrowed wheels so the race rubber could be kept above freezing. While the weight savings would have been nice, those all parts needed to go back. Several hours and an alignment check later, the car was ready for its third Targa!
After a short flight on Thursday, I arrived in St. John's. A few hours later, I returned to the airport to meet my new co-driver... for the first time! Martin Cadieux was recommended by a mutual friend and had prior experience in performance rally. All we needed was his name above the door. Check!
We drove the Prologue stages on Friday to test our communications. I had to learn the numerical system for describing corners: 1 being tight, 6 being nearly straight, Martin was extremely flexible in adapting the timing and pace of delivering instructions until we were both comfortable heading into the race.
Registration and technical inspection were scheduled for Saturday. With all of the maintenance and upgrade work Adam has completed for Mimi, we found ourselves through inspection and twiddling our thumbs before lunch - a welcome change from 2016 when we were braving wind and rain in a parking lot to change fluids, replace brake pads / rotors and install decals.
We took the opportunity to upgrade last year's rain gutters by cutting a groove along the top to better capture the water before it streamed into the cockpit.
The Prologue stages on Sunday were not scored, giving both organizers and competitors time to work the kinks out before racing started on Monday. We faced wet conditions on familiar stages through the communities of Flatrock and Bauline. The goal was simply to continue practicing our communications and keep the car between the ditches. Success!
Here's the last Prologue stage - a short hill-climb that was a challenge for the Miata.
Leg 1 took us from St. John's to Clarenville with stages that had traditionally been held during Leg 5. While target times had been relaxed from the prior year, we still found them to be a little challenging. Fortunately, the damp conditions allowed the extra few seconds to ensure we completed all stages with no time penalty.
We had some slight issues with wind noise and Martin's microphone cutting out in the morning. A not-so-elegant, but reasonably effective solution was found.
There was a "brown shorts" moment later in the afternoon on Stage 6 - that video is below. Maybe you can see the bump at 7:00 before we did?
Leg 2 included a number of long stages - all between 25 to 40 km (15 to 25 miles). These stages allowed for some very high speeds and high average speeds. Targa cars are limited by the rules to a maximum speed of 200 km/hr and an average speed for any stage of 140 km/hr. It was the average speed that caused problems on Stage 5 as we had to crawl through the last few meters to avoid a penalty.
As usual, these stages were extremely well run by the local coordinator, JoAnne Brinston. We had a great turnout from the community in Terranceville. But with the light fading, the last stage of the day had to be transited.
We did have some fun running on one of the fast stages, including playing with a Porsche 911 starting at the 8:50 mark.
Leg 3 started with mixed conditions on two stages in Lethbridge and Brooklyn, each run twice. There was a delayed start due to some local residents expressing their displeasure with our activities. We eventually got to race, but the roads were rougher than we'd experienced so far in the week. We completed without time penalties and kept the car intact going into lunch.
After two scrapped stages, the remaining two afternoon stages were run at George's Brook and Burgoynes Cove. These were longer stages and, unfortunately, not as well controlled as one would have hoped. We faced oncoming public vehicles on both stages, really putting a damper on our fun due to the significant risk involved.
At the 2:00 mark on Stage 7, you'll see what we mean...
Leg 4 was also marred by issues. The morning was supposed to consist of 4 stages in Harbour Grace - two run forward and two in reverse. Again, community residents made it known that we were unwelcome and the permission to run stages was revoked by town council.
The afternoon stages were long delayed, but we did race twice in Carbonear. The stages were fun, but the steep hills were not a good match for our Miata. While no car was able to achieve the target time, our penalties were quite a bit bigger than the 500+ hp Mustang we were racing. We fell 48 seconds behind the leaders on the day.
Here the better of our two runs.
The final day of Targa 2017 started with what are traditionally Leg 1 stages - two laps of the John Curran Memorial and a trip from Marysvale into Turks Gut (which makes a great spot to enjoy the rugged Newfoundland scenery). With no time penalties for us or car #101, we remained 48 seconds off the lead after the morning.
With the stages in Cupids cancelled, we had an extended lunch, which gave us time to help Mimi get her game face on for the final stages in Brigus.
The Brigus stages followed the same layout as previous years - a fast run into town, followed by tight turns between picket fences and rock walls. This stage suited the Miata, and while we were able to take advantage and pick up 6-7 seconds on our rivals for each of the three times we ran the stage, it was only enough to cut our deficit in half.
That secured second in Targa Classic - our best result in three years. We were also extremely proud of posting the second fastest time through the Brigus stage of ANY CAR, including the Open Class. Here's that lap.
Thanks to our crew chief, Adam, for the perfectly prepared car. We completed the week with no mechanical issues. And it was a pleasure to have Martin Cadieux as co-driver for 2017.
We're not sure if / when there's another Targa Newfoundland in our future. It won't be 2018. There are, however, many new adventures to be found in motorsport. More to come!
Racing at Targa Newfoundland has been a family and friends adventure for the last 3 years. My wife supports the time and money that goes into this hobby. My father has been in charge of shipping and receiving as car parts are delivered to him in Newfoundland. And my aunt and uncle have graciously hosted us for the overnight stays each trip.
But the biggest supporters have been my cousin, Adam, and his wife, Megan. They have been our dedicated support crew from the beginning, following us through rural Newfoundland and ensuring the car is ready for each stage.
Adam runs his small business - Penney's Mobile Repair - on top of his day job. And he's also done all the preparation for Targa 2017 - refreshed head, upgraded cooling system, and custom air intake. We're in better shape this year than we've ever been before!
While Megan will get dirty helping Adam with the car, her camera equipment is never out of reach. She runs Megan Marie Photography in addition to her 9-5, and she's been responsible for capturing spectacular images from Targa for the last two years.
We wouldn't be starting our 3rd Targa Newfoundland without all their great support - thank you!
While the focus has been on Spec Miata racing here in Texas, in the background, there’s plenty of work underway to prepare for Targa Newfoundland 2017. It’s the Sweet Sixteen edition of this event, and it will be our third time participating.
Unfortunately, our co-driver from 2015 and 2016, Don Kjorven, won’t be able to join us this time around. Don and I showed up at the Targa Performance Driving School in September 2015 with exactly zero rally experience between us – the night before was the first time Don even sat in the car! I thoroughly enjoyed climbing the learning curve with Don as we managed a 3rd place finish in Targa Classic in our first year and had a lot of fun along the way.
We returned to Targa Newfoundland in 2016 to find that a number of new participants had used our YouTube videos as part of their preparation. All were complimentary of Don’s composure in the car. With some experience under our belt, we set expectations for a higher finish in our second race. The car, however, had different plans. Brake issues in the first two days put us at the back of the field, but Don’s calm and clear thinking prevented it from being much worse. We stayed in the hunt for a podium and eventually managed a respectable 4th place finish in Targa Classic despite our early issues.
Thanks, Don, for two great years!
Joining Underbite Racing for Targa Newfoundland 2017 in the co-driver seat will be Martin Cadieux. Martin was introduced to us by Cindy McCarron – a co-driver in the Fast Tour division of last year’s event. Martin hails from Saint-Lazare, Quebec, and has co-driven a number of regional and national performance rallies in Canada. Welcome to the team!
Back in Newfoundland, Adam (crew chief) and Megan (official photographer) have their plates full. In addition to working their day jobs, each running their own businesses, and building a home, our little 1991(-ish) Miata, Mimi, needs some work. At the end of last year’s event, the car wouldn’t start without a push, and when it got running, the head was a little noisier than I’d like – that’ll require a new starter and maybe some valve adjustments. We’re also going to install small plates under the motor mounts to tuck the oil pan up between the front subframe members. That, plus a new skid plate, will hopefully help us keep the oil inside the engine for another year. The other issue we need to address is high operating temperature – a new water pump, radiator and thermostat are all on their way to Newfoundland to install.
We have our next Spec Miata race coming up on Memorial Day weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Watch our Facebook page for some live streaming from that event!
The 15th annual Targa Newfoundland took place from September 11-16, 2016. For those who may not know, Targa Newfoundland is one of three major "Targa" events in the world - the others being Targa New Zealand and Targa Tasmania. Competitors race on closed public roads, across rural highways and through small communities, trying to better a "base time" established by the organizers for that "stage". The cars "transit" on open roads under normal laws between stages to cover about 1600 km (1000 mi) over 6 days (or "legs").
Don and I arrived in St. John's on Thursday, September 8, at around 5AM, and so did our gear - I had over 160 lbs of tools, spare parts and safety gear in tow for this trip, including a suitcase that had nothing but brake rotors and brake pads inside.
After grabbing a Tim Horton's coffee to offset the lack of sleep, we went straight to the Targa High Performance Driving School at the Flatrock Community Center for a bit of a refresher.
The 2-day Targa school was a chance for Don and I to get back into gear since we hadn't seen each other since the end of Targa 2015. It was great to see Don pick up right where he left off last year as we did a little navigation practice and talked about how to better communicate in the car. We also met a number of new competitors, a number of whom said they'd watched our in-car videos from last year to get a better idea of what to expect.
Registration and technical inspection took place on a busy Saturday, September 10. Fortunately, our one-man support crew (and my cousin), Adam Penney, had arrived to help with the pre-race maintenance that needed to be done. Forced to work outside during cold drizzle, scattered showers and gusty winds*, we changed engine oil & filter / transmission fluid / differential fluid, lubed the brake caliper slide pins. replaced brake rotors and pads, flushed the brake fluid, checked and tightened all the major nuts and bolts, and removed / replaced the decals.
It was 4 hours of steady work before we breezed through the tech inspection. We did learn that Mimi is about 150 lbs over the minimum weight (which, for our classification in Targa, is based on the original curb weight for the car). I'm not sure there's much that can or needs to be done to change that.
* Note the ratchet straps in the photo below holding the hood in each direction...
The Prologue stages on Sunday, September 11, are practice stages for driver and co-driver to test themselves and the car at speed without any scoring. The town of Flatrock hosted the first two stages and we moved to Bauline for stages 3 and 4.
Despite all our work the day before, the brakes on the car just didn't feel right. If you watch the video of Stage 1 below, you'll hear me say "brakes are soft" right after the very first braking zone. As soon as we'd completed the two Flatrock stages, Adam was standing by to bleed the brakes again to see if that would help. Unfortunately, it didn't.
We managed to get through the two stages in beautiful Bauline - where, thankfully, they'd removed the long downhill section from the stage - and parked the car for the night.
Here's a link to the YouTube playlist with all of the Prologue videos.
With our braking issues unresolved, we continued to struggle during the first scored leg of Targa 2016. We made our way from St. John's towards Clarenville, with the day starting a little damp and drying out after the first stage. While waiting for Stage 4 to start, I was poking around under the hood to see if we were leaking brake fluid. That's when I discovered the problem - the little bracket that holds the brake fluid distribution block was mounted incorrectly. It was placed between the brake booster and master cylinder, creating a gap in the mechanical linkage - that small gap was causing a full inch of play down at the brake pedal.
Unfortunately, we weren't equipped to make the fix on the side of the road. Knowing it could be resolved that night was comforting, but the inability to modulate the brakes would still cost us 28 seconds later that day. When we didn't slow as expected going into a hard left on Stage 5, I pushed harder on the pedal and locked up all 4 wheels, sliding straight off the road. We backed up, but I was fuming and not thinking clearly - thankfully, Don was calm and rational and got us moving again.
We limped through the rest of the day without taking any additional penalties, but that wasn't how I was hoping to start the race. Here's the YouTube playlist with all of the videos from Leg 1.
Brakes are awesome became my favorite saying as we got back to having fun on Leg 2. Each stage was 16 km (10 mi) or longer, over generally good roads, which allowed us to hit a top speed of 190 kph (118 mph).
There was a little bit of excitement on Stage 6 heading into Terranceville. Towards the end of the stage, there's an acute left after a crest. We think the route book distance may have been out a bit, but in any case, we missed the turn and again, slid straight off course. If there was an award for "fastest to put the car into reverse", I think we would have won it. A large number of cars made the same mistake and it made for good entertainment for the local fans.
We discovered another small issue with the car under full throttle - it would cut out at 5500 rpm, drop to 5000 rpm, and run again. Based on a quick search and a few text messages, it seemed to be a wiring harness, timing belt or sensor issue - none of which would be fixable during the week, so we'd just have to live with it.
One of the highlights of the week was the lunch in Terranceville. The stage coordinator, Joanne Brinston, had done an amazing job of engaging the community - we felt like rock stars as kids wandered around asking for autographs and adults were checking out the cars. This is how Targa should aim to be received in every community!
The YouTube playlist with videos from Leg 2 is here.
We only raced one of the first 4 stages on Leg 3 due to an accident. Unfortunately, one of the local teams damaged their car beyond repair, but driver and co-driver escaped with relatively minor injuries.
We encountered the first of the town stages later in the day, arriving in the beautiful, tourist town of Trinity with the instruction "crest into medium right, between houses, narrow". While we stopped for lunch, Adam discovered the actual cause of our engine hesitation issue from the previous day - a nut securing ground wires near the cam angle sensor had worked its way off. A quick reach into his pocket for a standard Miata 10mm nut, and another problem was solved...
The last two stages of the day were really rough, including a "bad ditch" running across the road. You can hear the car hit hard several times between 1:35 and 1:45 in the video below. Each hit was followed by a quick glance at the oil pressure gauge.
Unlike last year, where the tight, twisty bits caught us off guard, we ran really well. We took 37 seconds of penalties, losing only 13 seconds the top team in Targa Classic division on the day.
All of the videos from Leg 3 are included in this YouTube playlist.
Leg 4 was the only wet day of racing at Targa 2016. Unfortunately, Leg 4 also saw the end of the road for a couple of teams - our friends in the other Miata had what seemed to be a minor incident with a deflated tire forcing them into a gentle spin, but it left their car unusable with some sort of suspension issue. Another car missed a turn and ended up damaged beyond repair, while the driver and co-driver were unharmed.
We were one of two cars in Targa Classic to finish the day with no penalties. We initially took time on Stage 9 as we slowed due to an oncoming car (!!!), but after submitting an inquiry, that penalty was zeroed. The video below doesn't quite do justice to the sensation of seeing headlights coming at you while racing. The rest of the Leg 4 Youtube videos can be found here.
Targa Newfoundland 2016 wrapped up with Leg 5 on Friday, September 16. After a few longer, flowing stages, the event wraps up with two repeated town stages - Cupids, Brigus, Cupids, Brigus.
After a mistake on the first pass through Brigus, I was really happy with well recovered and how hard we were able to push through the last two stages. We took only 9 seconds on the second run through Brigus - by comparison, we took 24 seconds in 2015. The video for that run, Stage 8, is embedded below. Click here for the rest of the YouTube videos from Leg 5,
We wrapped up the week in 4th place in Targa Classic overall and 2nd place in Targa Classic Group 3. It was a little disappointing to know that we could have finished higher if it weren't for the braking issues at the beginning of the week. That said, I'm proud of how we kept pushing such that a podium was still within reach on Friday.
Megan Best from Megan Marie Photography moved on to become the official photographer for Targa Newfoundland this year. But she still captured a number of photo of the Underbite Racing team in action and we'll post those as soon as they're ready.
We've already registered for Targa Newfoundland 2017 and hope to get ourselves back onto the podium. Mimi, our '91 Miata, will some well-deserved rest and TLC before her next race, while I move on to Competition School at the next NASA TX event in mid-October.
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.