Targa Miata
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 540 - 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 541 - 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 542 - 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 543 - 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 544 - 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 545 - 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 546 - 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 547 - 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 548 - 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 549 - tags: prologue
October 7, 2008 - Race pictures!
This is from Torbay, one of the prologue stages as Janel and I start to figure this all out. Taken by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 618 - tags: prologue
October 7, 2008 - Another view of the car mid-corner.
This is the same corner as the last shot, our second time through the Torbay stage. By this point, we were starting to get a little more comfortable with the speeds and the notes, and discovering just how much gravel got spewed on to the road by the end of a stage!
Taken by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 619 - tags: prologue
October 14, 2008 - Some more race photos, this time from Ralph Saulnier.
Ralph took some great shots. There's something about this one that looks very purposeful - it's not really a fantastic picture, but I like it. So I put it up.
It's from one of the prologue stages.
entry 627 - tags: prologue
September 11, 2011 - So, how did it go?
To keep the suspense to a minimum, very well. Both Janel and I were a bit nervous pulling up to the start line of Flatrock, even though it was a stage we'd run twice at legal speeds while checking out the car. But it's been three years since we ran a stage at speed. For me, I got a big shot of adrenaline about the time I hit second gear after a gentle start. I also spied one of our camera crew by the side of the road and remembered what I was supposed to be doing.
I was quite cautious on the first bit, taking things a bit carefully on the corners as I felt out the car. There are some real consequences to the first part of this stage, and it's taken a few scalps over the years. The car felt good, although the approach speeds were higher than before! Once we turned into the woods and away from the ocean, I put the hammer down. And this car has quite a hammer. After the stage, I was talking to a couple of other experienced drivers and they asked how the car was "up the hill". Hill? I asked a few questions and found out that the wooded section was uphill the whole 3 km or so. I'd never noticed. I lifted because my speed was high enough (we maxed out at 177), but the car shrugged off gravity. Just after that conversation, we ran over the same road again as part of a transit and I realized they were right. It IS uphill all the way! Not that you could tell from the way the car pulled. It is a rocket, and it seems to be propelled by sheer noise. The video is going to be epic.
Janel was a bit shaky from adrenaline after the run and I was giddy. What a rush.
entry 947 - tags: 2011 race, prologue, Flatrock
September 11, 2011 - After Flatrock, we stopped for lunch at a local school for our first meet-and-greet.
And we got to meet lots of Targa fans. This is Stephen Strickland and family, who are part of the reason we're here. We've been lucky enough to meet a number of our supporters, the people who made this whole race possible.
entry 948 - tags: 2011 race, prologue, supporters
September 11, 2011 - Another stop before the second and third stages.
These were run through Torbay, which is a town stage that alternates fast roads with tight corners. I remember from 2008 that this was an eye-opener about the speed in close quarters. I actually remembered it quite well from last time, so I was less worried. And it went well. The car is still super-fast and I'm getting a better handle on exactly how tight a "medium right" corner is. They seem slower than I remember, but that could simply be due to the speed between the corners. Just like 2008, we finished the second run through the stage right on the tail of the car that started 30s in front of us. That's got to be a good sign. On that run, we hit 160 kmh. In someone's neighborhood.
So, how did we do? Well, these stages aren't scored at all. They're for shakedown. But we are given base times, which we used as a sanity check to get an idea of how we should sit in the class. And we beat our base time by approximately 17 seconds in all three cases. When the times were published by the end of the day, we tied for third on the first stage and fourth on the second. The times for the third stage don't appear to be printed yet. So we've got the speed, and we can afford to be cautious where we need to be cautious and make up for it on the easier sections. Excellent.
entry 949 - tags: 2011 race, prologue, Torbay