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Jim Kenzie takes on Targa Newfoundland

Published August 31, 2012

The eleventh annual Targa Newfoundland – the most fun you can have in a car sitting upright – begins a week from Monday.

Fun?

The police close the roads and tell you to drive faster.

I rest my case.

Belleville PR maven Doug Mepham and yours truly came up with this fantasy scheme twelve years ago, literally on a ferry boat coming back to Melbourne, Australia after competing in the tenth Targa Tasmania.

We figured – “Island; welcoming population; could use some tourism dollars – why not?”

Bob Giannou and his band of Rock crazies asked, “Why not indeed?” and turned this fantasy into a reality.

I don’t think he has ever forgiven us.

A Targa rally consists of timed stages, where we do indeed drive as fast as we can, linked by “transits” upon which we are obliged to obey all traffic laws. There are something like 44 stages, spread out over a week and maybe one-third of the island’s geography.

We try – not always successfully – not to get too spread out over the island’s geography.

Unlike most performance rallies, it’s not necessarily fastest wins in a Targa event. For each stage and classification of car, a base time is established by the organizers. If you meet or beat that time, you “zero” the stage; otherwise, it’s a point per second that you’re late. Fewest points at the end of the week wins.

The classifications are based on the age, performance potential and degree of modification of the car. If you’ve got a car, they’ve got a class.

There is also a Grand Touring Division running concurrently over the same course, which is more like a traditional TDS (Time-Speed-Distance) event.

New last year and continuing this year is the “Fast Tour,” for owners of exotic sports cars who want to run the course but not actually compete. You probably saw the YouTube video of the Ferrari Enzo, a.k.a. “The Yellow Submarine”, from last year’s Fast Tour.

Brian Bourbonniere, my Lawrenceville, N.S.-based navigator Since Year Three and myself have a new ride this year, a brand-new Kia Optima Turbo, built by Dan and Frank Sprongl of Four Star Motorports in Georgetown, Ont.. How lucky am I that the best rally car builders on the planet are about ten minutes from my house?

The car has been built to “Modern Level One” spec, which means the most stock possible – essentially, we’re allowed some modifications to suspension and the requisite safety equipment, like roll cage and five-point harnesses.

With 276 horsepower, we don’t figure to lack for pace. It’ll be interesting to see how a big roomy family sedan handles its first-ever performance rally.

The car will be sponsored in part by Live Nation, which has an on-going partnership with Kia Canada. Live Nation is the world’s leading live entertainment and eCommerce company. Perhaps best-known for its Ticketmaster.com event ticket division, the company also incorporates Live Nation Concerts, which promotes over 20,000 shows annually for over 2,000 performers; Front Line Management Group, an artist management company with over 250 artists on its roster; and Live Nation Network, which connects advertisers with the customer base through live event and digital platforms.

Said Robert Staffieri, Director of Marketing, Kia Canada Inc., “Kia Canada’s alignment with Live Nation and motorsports prove to be large cultural draws that continue to build the Kia brand; to have the two connected with the same vehicle sends a very powerful message.”

I have already enquired about a concert tour for my band. I’m not holding my breath.
We will be part of a two-car team. The Forte Koup which has run the past two years is back, with Jacques Deshaies of Trois Rivieres returning behind the wheel and Marc Bouchard from Montreal making his rallying debut in the right seat.

It will seem a bit strange for Brian and myself to be running Targa in anything but a MINI. Apart from Year One when I shared Mr. Mepham’s 1971 Volvo, I’ve always been in a new-generation MINI.

Year Two was a fairly stock Cooper S. It had air-con, CD player, sunroof, cruise – that’s the way to go rallying!

In Years Three through Seven we had the best car I have ever competed in, a Sprongl-built MINI Cooper S JCW. That was a fantastic car, so easy to drive fast, so tough and so forgiving.

OK, maybe the affection I felt for that car was partly Stockholm Syndrome, because the three of us – Ol’ Red, Brian and myself – went through a hell of a lot, including two Open Division wins and a handful of other trophies.

I’ve never felt worse than when I threw that beautiful little thing into the woods at a buck-sixty. Tough as it was, even it couldn’t withstand a double end-O at that speed.
Needless to say, Brian and I walked away unscathed, thanks to our safety equipment.
I think MINI stole the “design” for the new MINI Coupe from our wrecked Targa car. I should ask for royalties.

Ol’ Red was replaced by a MINI Challenge race car in Year Eight. Very fast, also red, but it took us a while to get it rally-ready, and to become comfortable in it. We took one more Open Championship in that car two years ago despite walking across the finish line with just the steering wheel in my hand after the driveshaft decided to part company with the wheel on the second-last stage of the event (Hey – we don’t make the rules; we just bend them).

We had an electrical issue last year which meant we didn’t even finish Day One.
Don’t know whether that had any influence on MINI’s decision not to go back this year – all I was told was ‘new marketing people, new direction’.

But hey – unless you’re driving for Ferrari, all ‘factory rides’ eventually go away, and I have nothing but huge thanks to MINI for their support over the years.

What we know for sure about the Optima:
Brian won’t have to negotiate the transit stages with the helmets in his lap – there was nowhere else in the MINI to put them- he and I will get new racing suits so we won’t have to walk around all week with ‘MINI’ plastered all over our chests.

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