Targa Miata
September 13, 2008 - After the long haul across Canada and the US, the race car was finally unloaded in Newfoundland.
The car survived the trip just fine thanks to the covered trailer - I didn't even have to dust it off. I drove it directly into the arena where registration, scrutineering and the first "car show" were taking place. The car's not very happy idling when cold at sea level, but I don't have a lot of time to mess with the tuning to fix that up right now. It pulls nice and hard though.
entry 1 - tags: registration
September 13, 2008 - Inside the arena, the most impressive aspect was the range of machinery present.
The Targa Newfoundland is a historic event that also allows modern machinery. The E-Type (or XK-E, I always forget) in is the Grand Touring class and is gorgeous. The Porsche is one of many, with BMW also very well represented. Later arrivals had to park outside and that included a number of Mitsubishis and Subarus as well as a heavily modified Challenger with an intake bursting through the hood. Yes, the new Challenger. I'll get a picture of it later when it's not completely mobbed.
I do have to say that the Miata presents pretty well. The livery gets a lot of attention - as it's supposed to! - and it's gratifying to see how many people know the car. It's a very friendly bunch.
The variety of cars and the friendliness of competitors is not a surprise. That's how everyone describes the Targa. Well, it's true.
entry 2 - tags: registration
September 13, 2008 - My biggest worry before the event was making it through scrutineering.
Missing something small (or big!) in the regulations could make for a very busy day. That's why I'd been reading them very carefully and repeatedly, and emailing the organizers with questions. The car breezed through with no problem at all. Less than 15 minutes after pulling into the arena, I was done. Wow.
Not everyone was so lucky. I saw a number of cars who had missed the labelling requirements, including a beautiful Porsche Carrera 4 with a towing arrow made out of duct tape! I took pity and gave him my spare tow stickers. I also saw a Touring-class Porsche with the driver's name written on the windshield frame in marker. Another team had a scare when they were initially told their helmets were not legal. The regulations for Grand Touring helmets weren't clearly written so they had some anxious moments.
entry 3 - tags: registration
September 13, 2008 - We're only allowed 6 tires for the event.
All of my tires were marked with a special magical orange blob as well as my car number. Eww.
The other aspect of registration was paperwork, of course. Copies of driver's licenses, competition licenses, first aid certificates, etc were traded for a big stack of route books, jackets, hats and stickers. Many stickers.
I then spent the rest of the afternoon putting stickers all over my poor car. It's not a big car, and there are a lot of sponsors involved in this race! I did my best to make sure they looked good and not just slapped on.
entry 4 - tags: registration
September 13, 2008 - We had the chance to get out on the roads today for a bit, calibrating the odometer.
It's going to be difficult to drive some of these roads without stopping to take pictures, as it's a gorgeous area. And we have gorgeous weather right now, sunny and warm.
Tomorrow is the Prologue. That's three stages that are not timed, to give us the chance to get into the rhythm of the race. It's exactly what we need. Janel is doing her homework, analyzing the route books and translating the tulip diagrams into her instructions. "Does this look like a sharp right at a Y, or a square left at a T?" We're discussing the distinction between "easy right over crest" and "easy right into crest". It's all well and good for me to discuss that here in the hotel room, we'll see how I deal with it at speed!
We had a reception tonight to welcome everyone. Like a bunch of nerds, we showed up first right on time. Yeah, I'm that guy. An hour later, the place was hopping. We took off right after the speeches because Janel's exhausted from a late-night arrival into town. Trevor's off in the morning after being a huge help on the drive out.
So, a good first day. The only problem we had was with a stripped screw inside the trailer jack that could not be fixed despite the best efforts of the support crew. No worries, it can be sorted when I get back home. The expected chaos and problems did not happen. The car's legal, everyone's friendly and we're all ready for the first shot at a closed stage tomorrow.
entry 5 - tags: registration
September 14, 2008 - This is the obvious solution for how to carry two cars to the Targa.
It's called the "car camel".
entry 6 - tags: registration
September 14, 2008 - The first day of driving is the Prologue.
This gives us a chance to get a feel for how the stages work and lets the organizers seed the cars for the timed stages, starting tomorrow. The slowest cars go off first, the faster ones later. If you're seeded too early, you spend a lot of time passing people. If you're seeded too late, you'll be pulling over constantly.
The first stage was Flatrock, a fairly quick one along the coast and into the forest. We drove it yesterday as part of our odometer check and we'd had the chance to watch it on video - so it wasn't a stranger to us. It's just as well that I was comfortable with it as it gave Janel a chance to settle in with her instructions. It went pretty well. Not super-fast, of course, but you can't win the Targa on the Prologue. You can, however, lose it by crashing. It was all over in a bit of a blur.
We stopped for lunch at a school, much to the delight of the local kids. This is a common theme in the Targa. We're basically a rolling car show. We all knew what our appropriate time was to leave the control, but everybody was eager and peeled out a bit early. This would have consequences at the next stage start, as there was limited space for staging and we collectively caused a big traffic jam. Whoops.
entry 7 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - If Janel looks happy, things must have gone well.
And they did. The second Prologue stage was Torbay, a tight one that tweaks up and down through narrow streets in a neighbourhood. It wasn't as fast as Flatrock and I felt more comfortable. It was basically a big, blind autocross! The Miata's perfect for this, and I laughed out loud on one corner - as we entered it, I could see how it was going to tighten up. The car tucked right in and the back end smeared around the corner just enough to exit me perfectly down the next straight. It was exactly what I expected it to do and I was able to use it just as I needed it. That's the benefit of years of racing and autocrossing the same kind of car as well as all the development time. There was also one piece of the road covered in gravel kicked up by earlier cars that I was able to set up for nicely.
It wasn't perfect, though. At one point, the back end felt loose on braking and the car was bobbing around too much on the battered roads. Janel had trouble with how quickly the instructions were coming up although she was able to communicate everything important to me. I had to come to grip with the level of speed on very narrow streets and little visibility. There's a lot of trust involved!
We then went to a short "meet and greet" which was really to ease congestion at stage start, as we were running the same stage again. And once again, everyone bolted early and caused a traffic jam. Nice to see we can all learn from our mistakes! I took the time at the stop to stiffen up the rebound damping to keep things under control a bit more.
The second time through the stage, Janel was more comfortable with the pace. She realized that she had to simply run off the notes and the odometer, instead of looking up to see how I dealt with whatever she'd just called. We launched off fairly hard and were working pretty well together, but found out there was a whole lot more gravel on the roads. We'd been followed through the stage by the Open class cars, mostly piloted by very competitive rally drivers. I did get the tail out enough to get a little squeak out of Janel, but overall it went very well. We cut some time off and finished the stage in sight of the car that had started 30 seconds in front of us. More importantly, we had better communication in terms of accuracy and timing. The pre-race navigation school said that the navigator had to paint an "accurate and unambiguous picture in the driver's head", and we're getting better at that. I'm definitely more comfortable in the tight confines of the street stages than in the high-speed open ones, but I'll get that sorted. The car was much better in terms of suspension control and didn't get upset by the bumps at all.
So that's all good then. Janel and I were really happy with how things had gone, and I'd had a whole lot of fun. Time to head back to the arena for the car show.
entry 8 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - So who's the fast guy at Targa this year?
We'll know more after the seeding, but Frank Sprongl in his monster Audi is a good bet. The car sure sounds angry, and you can tell it's a real weapon.
entry 9 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - One of the stars of the show so far is this Challenger.
It's not just any Challenger, either. It's got a 392 version of the Hemi with a high-rise intake manifold that puts the filter under a big hood bulge. It's beautifully built with the nicest coat of metallic green paint on the roll cage. And it's driven by Ralph Gillies, who happens to be the VP of Design at Chrysler. Very fast.
entry 10 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - The Challenger has this clever G-meter installed.
It's good to see that even a big factory effort has a sense of humor.
entry 11 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - The local kids (big and little ones) love the goodies given out by each team.
We're a real disappointment there, unfortunately. The "hero cards" never got made and we have nothing to hand out. I'd like to apologize to everyone for that, we hate having to turn them away. Maybe I'll go buy a bunch of Martini liquor at the store and give out shots.
entry 12 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - Inside the arena, lots of work was being done on cars.
Despite the fact that we'd only covered 60 km including transit sections, some cars were getting a fair bit of attention. It's probably a good idea, but I decided to put it off until tomorrow other than a quick fluid and lug nut check. Tomorrow, it'll be up on jackstands getting a good check.
There are two new MINIs and three classic Minis at the event. The red MINI is driven by Jim Kenzie, who's won the Targa overall in the past and was a primary instigator of getting the whole thing underway. His navigator is Brian Bourbonniere, who has four (?) consecutive national rally championships. So they know what they're doing. Both have been really helpful to us, sitting down to discuss techniques, strategy and odd foodstuffs like scrapple. Brian in particular spent a lot of time talking to Janel tonight giving her both overall and very stage-specific advice. Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?
entry 13 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - The arena was only about half full at this point.
It doesn't matter if you're into classic cars or modern stuff, there's something for you at the Targa. And you get to see them running hard on the stages during the day. It's no wonder the locals love it.
entry 14 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - This particular Mini is known as "Betty", and has been running the race for years.
Dick, the driver, has mentioned that there are a lot more jumps than are acknowledged in the route book. This is probably a side product of the Mini's short suspension travel, of course.
entry 15 - tags: prologue
September 14, 2008 - Sorry about the fractured nature of these updates, it's almost a stream-of-consciousness piece of writing.
This race diary is also my "scrapbook" of the event, so I'm trying to make sure everything gets in here. Hey, this is what it's like to run this sort of thing.
We had a 90 minute driver's meeting this morning, going over everything from roll call to errant paperwork to how the timing works. This year's Targa is a little different in that last regard, and really easy to figure out. In the past, if the roads were damp (Condition 2) or wet (Condition 3) we had to figure out a percentage change in our base time, which implies dry (Condition 1). No longer. Now we have nice tables in our route books. A simple change on the part of the organizers, but a big load off us. We're also given our ideal starting times for every control and stage start, which means no more math on the part of the codriver. The TSD crowd might call us softies, but Janel has lots to do already.
There's also no maximum average speed anymore, so it's impossible to finish a stage too early. There's no benefit in going faster than our base time, but we won't be able to hit our base time on all stages anyhow. There are speed restriction zones (SRZs) that have a hard 80 km/h (50 mph) speed limit and there's a blanket 200 km/h (126 mph) limit on the entire event. 200 km/h on unknown public roads? Okay, that should be fast enough for me. Janel reports that she feels no need to go quicker.
My parents are acting as support crew for us. We haven't needed them for much support yet, but it's really nice to have someone who can procure Timbits when required! They'll help out more tomorrow once I start doing more to the car.
Tomorrow's a long day. Approximately 450 km of driving over 11.5 hours. We also have to check out of our very comfortable hotel at about 6:45 am, which means corraling many miles of wires and cables and battery chargers and books and highlighters and shoes and clothes...
entry 16 - tags: prologue
September 15, 2008 - We were 28th overall in the prologue, and seeded very nicely.
It was gratifying to see that we were on the pace, as there was no indication at all yesterday of how we were doing.
Early morning start, long transit. Booooring.

Stage 1, Placentia. It's like a series of old abandoned roads through a subdivision that no longer exists. A little odd, but there's nothing to hit so it's a good place to start off. It worked out pretty well for us, with just one error when Janel got a bit mixed up between incremental and cumulative distances and we almost tried to make a hard right turn into a pull-out. No harm done and we finished the stage without further mishap. Checking the numbers, we found that we had managed to finish the stage in our required time - to the second! That means no penalty points, and the cool kids call it "zeroing" the stage. Whew.

The next stage was Argentia. It's a town stage with a lot of crazy corners and angles. Early on, we came around a corner and there was yellow tape blowing across the road. Another competititor must have taken a chunk out of it. I lifted, Janel heard me and just said "GO!". The route book is always right.
A bit further down the stage, we were in the middle of a long left corner with a dip halfway through that has claimed a lot of cars. I spotted a driver standing by the side of the road holding up a stage access card with the big red cross facing us. We were the first on the scene, so we pulled in. I told Janel to run down and set up the triangles while I grabbed the first aid kit and headed for the car. A classic Mini had gone into a slide and entered a deep ditch backwards, ending up on its side and almost out of sight of the road. The driver was out but the codriver had decided to stay in place because he was worried about his neck. I turned off the ignition and talked to him for a while as we flagged down the next car to go get an ambulance. Meanwhile, we tried to slow traffic and ended up pulling over most of them. The ambulance and fire trucks arrived and started to cut the Mini apart. We had to leave. We drove the rest of the stage relatively slowly, which was a shame. It would have been an awesome one. The good news is that, at last report, the navigator appears to be in good shape.
The organizers do leave lots of time at various service stops for everything to get back on track after a problem like this one. We started the next stage - one car short - right on time. In the meantime, Janel had an epiphany on how to read the route book that helped her out tremendously.

Stage 3 was the first of the fast stages - Osprey. In order to zero the stage, we had to average 123 km/h. That's 14.4 km in 7:01. Since I've spent so much time autocrossing, I figured I should be good at the city stages but not at the high speed ones through the woods. I've driven at high speeds, but always on a track that I know well. So, how would this translate to rallying?
Pretty well, as it turns out. Only the "out of character" corners are marked in the route book, and the longer pauses gave Janel time to make sure everything was being called properly and on time. For example, the first call is 4 km into the stage. Meanwhile, I straddled the yellow line down the middle of the road and tried to read everything as I came up to it at high speed. It was, as you might imagine, exhilarating. I had to use every tool available to me to figure out where the road was going to go and to dance the car around, and I had a little guardian angel to tell me about the hard bits in detail before they happened. We finished the stage about 14 seconds early. We don't get bonus points for finishing early, but it felt great. We did manage to bottom out the car twice on the course, once on a long hard sweeper with a hidden bump. The car felt great, though. Very controlled and able to do whatever I asked. Even that big hit didn't unsettle the car at all although it apparently looked from outside as if I slammed the frame on to the road. Really, all that suspension development time is paying off. The car's very supple over rough terrain. We hit a top speed of 177 km/h on the stage as well, deep in the woods somewhere.

The next stage, Adeytown/Deep Bight, was almost as fast. But tricker, as it turns out. There were some really rough sections that turned out to be very narrow. Yikes.
We have the trip computer set up with a "pilot" speed, telling us if we're running ahead or behind our target speed, and by how much. It's really handy, as I can glance over and get an idea of how much cushion I have - or how much deficit. Near the end of the stage, I knew I was running about 2 seconds late so I pushed hard on the last kilometer to try to claw some of it back. Success! Another zeroed stage with a top speed of over 160 km/h.

After lunch (at 4:30!), we had the Port Blandford stage. 121.1 average speed - and no pace notes at all. There are no junctions, no tricky corners, just the driver and the road. Basically, it's as if you just robbed the bank in a town you've never visited before. Janel busied herself with reading off the elapsed distance so I'd have an idea of how far there was to go. She's learned not to ever look out the windshield because it spooks her and she loses her place. She's running completely off the odometer, and it's working well. Other than in this stage, of course. It wasn't a straight line shot, either, but a tear through a town along the coast with crests and dips and all sorts of fun. About 2/3 of the way through, I was well up on my time so I eased off just a bit. Right about then, I came around a long right that went over a crest. Nothing major, but there was potential for the rear end to get away from a driver as it was unweighted. And sure enough, there was a set of skidmarks off into the trees. The OK sign was being waved, so I got back on the gas hard and zeroed the stage. It turns out there was a CRX upside down in the forest out of sight. Ouch.

Last stage, Eastport Penninsula. By this time, it's nearly 6 pm and we've been on the road since around 7 am. We're about ready to be done. But first, a challenge. The stage runs around a town, all right-angle corners and 500m straights. And a 98.8 km/h average speed. Umm, this is not going to be easy. We don't have the horsepower to evaporate a straight like some of the others do. So we'll have to make it up by being nimble.
It started off well, but I was having trouble keeping up. It wasn't just a flat and rectilinar subdivision, but a city that had grown around the contours of the land. Nothing was straight and I wasn't comfortable enough with the navigational calls to stay flat out over crests when I knew there was a right hander coming up in 300m. Still, it was working. Until we came to one intersection. I had to go straight through, but I somehow had the idea it was a hairpin right that was a couple of hundred meters later. I got on the brakes and asked Janel where to go. She told me "straight straight straight" and we got back on it. We hit 155 km/h running through this down shortly afterwards as I tried to make up time, but we were 2 seconds late coming through the flying finish. So there's our first penalty. We talked about it and we've figured out what happened, so it won't happen again. 2 seconds on a whole day - our first day? That's pretty good. And think about it. I got to drive through someone's small town at triple the speed limit while everyone stood at the side of the road and cheered. Does it get better?

So what's it like inside the car? We're having fun. Sure, the transits are long. BUt we're both really having a good time on the stages and we're loving the teamwork. A lot of people thought we were nuts doing this as a husband/wife team, but it's a great thing for us.

There was one problem, though. When I was checking over the car at night, I discovered that the left rear shock was leaking. That big impact on stage 3 had blown right through the bumpstop and damaged the seal on the shaft. Not good. Of course, I didn't bring any spare shocks. The car's handling just fine right now, but will it stay that way? Some quick moving on the part of Bill at Flyin' Miata and there's a replacement on the way to us. We'll have to do at least one and possibly two days on the current one. Wish me luck.

Today was a long day. We drove about 11.5 hours and covered a lot of ground. Tomorrow is a bit easier, but it's still time to get to bed. More pictures will come later.
entry 17 - tags: leg 1
September 15, 2008 - I'm not sure what to add.
I was unable to provide an appropriately posed car, unfortunately.
entry 18 - tags: leg 1
September 15, 2008 - The nets I put on the sides of the transmission tunnel are really handy.
Mostly for supplies to keep the codriver alive.
entry 19 - tags: leg 1
September 15, 2008 - It's always good to know that you'll have lots of help if you work on your car at the Targa.
Or, if not help, lots of supervisors.
entry 20 - tags: leg 1