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.