Targa Newfoundland 2016

This rally* started, for us, eighteen months ago. That’s when the illustrious Frank McKinnon roped us into his scheme to run Targa “while it’s still around”.

Now Frank’s done a lot of rallies – from AlCan to the modern Carrera Panamerica – and even more racing. He’s also helped organize big motorsports events, having run tech for the Silver State Classic in recent years. Frank’s the most “in the loop” racing guy I know. So when Frank said, “This is the year to go to Newfoundland – John and I are entered, so we can help each other out there”, we heard the knock of opportunity and answered the door.

We’re not Targa racers, though – we’re time-speed-distance ralliers. Our cars don’t have roll cages; instead, they have high-precision odometers and lots of clocks. Good thing, then, that Targa Newfoundland includes a time-speed-distance division, called ‘Grand Touring’ (or just GT). We signed up for the 2015 event, and started working on the logistics of getting to, and competing on, Newfoundland.

That visit was a roller-coaster of dashed hopes, tiny satisfactions, thwarted efforts, wild ambitions, and ultimately a narrowly-won victory for us. Part of the problem was that we brought the wrong car, a station wagon, and part of the problem was that we brought the wrong habits.

It was an all-wheel-drive wagon, with powerful brakes and stable handling – but it just didn’t have the giddiup we needed. Time-speed-distance events in the Pacific Northwest run on open roads, which keeps the speeds down. Targa runs on closed roads, and the speeds are brisk. Hell, they’re more than brisk, even for the GT class. In 2015, I spent more time with the gas pedal pressed flat to the floor than not.

Our habits, also tuned to PNW-style events, emphasize being ‘on time, all the time’. You daren’t run too far ahead of perfect time lest some unseen control dock you points for your early arrival. But Targa sections have very few intermediate controls, and their finish lines are frequently set after a series of twisty, often blind, often wet, curves. If you are on-time at the start of that series, you’ll be late into the finish. Targa Newfoundland must be run like a Monte Carlo style rally, and we didn’t figure that out ‘til mid-week last year.

The overall Targa experience so stunned us – especially the final result – that we put ourselves on the entry list for 2016. We were seeking clarity, and closure, and a kind of proof that we earned the 2015 win, and didn’t just stumble into it when others faltered. So we were in St. John’s this year as a direct result of Frank’s call to action last Spring.

And this time, we brought a Porsche.

* a ‘rally’, generally, is a motoring competition carried out on roads (either closed or open) versus occuring on a track or course. The essence of rally is variation and surprise, versus perfecting a lap around a racetrack.

Getting There – And Back Again
Targa’s a full week of competition, but that starts after you’ve reached the province. Since our car lives in Portland, Oregon, getting the car to the ferry dock in Nova Scotia takes another six days, minimum. And the ferry ride is 14 hours more… The trip home’s a hard seven days.

Our time-off-work allotments were already strained, and we couldna’ afford to make two cross-country road trips in a single month. It was easy, though, to find a couple willing to drive the Carrera 4, expenses paid, across the United States. We also found a volunteer to drive it back – all the way from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America – in the first person we asked.

Aside from car preparation, which occupied every free weekend in June and July, our part in this play started when we flew to Boston, and met the couple who’d driven east. They were perfectly on time, the handoff was seamless, and we ran the 996 up to Portland, Maine, the same evening. Then things took an unexpected turn. First, ZZ Top was playing on the pier, and Portland was packed with people. The pubs’d run out of cod, so no Fish-n-Chips to be found. More disturbing, the ferry we’d booked from Maine to Nova Scotia for the next day was cancelled – for high swells – and we’d have to drive ‘round through New Brunswick instead.

The cancellation was inconvenient, but not a real threat to our schedule. In the maritimes you’re always at the mercy of the weather, and we’d built in extra time. Still, as we cruised up the Bay Of Fundy on Labor Day, we heard rumblings about the ‘tail of the hurracaine’ that’d raised the swell, and began to worry. What if our second ferry, two days hence, from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, would likewise trapped at the dock by heavy seas?

So we ran like chickens for the ferry dock, hoping to catch an earlier run while the waves allowed the passage. That we did, though we had to take the shorter cruise to Newfoundland, which leaves you on the sou’west edge of The Rock. Next day, we faced a 900km drive to St. John’s.

By the way – when you’re on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) from Port-aux-Basque, and you see a sign that says the town ahead is 220km away, you’ll think, “Okay, I’m going 110kph, so it’s two hours away”. Not if there are 6km long ‘construction zones’ posted at 50kph every 30km. I don’t begrudge the Newfies doing road improvements during the short summer, but I think the construction zones might have been a bit tighter around those bridges.

How’s It Going?
Soon after we left Boston, I noticed that the Porsche’s steering wheel was vibrating on the highway. The car has a lot of road feel – it’s one of its strengths – but this I was something else. The vibes lessened at lower speed, and on smoother roads, but it felt wrong. I tried to reason out the cause while driving headlong to the east. The wheels were unmarked, and the tires near new. I was afraid it was a failing wheel bearing; I even started thinking about how to change it on the island… since there’s no Porsche dealer, the parts’d have to come from elsewhere, …call Porsche dealer in the US, get ‘em ordered, have our service guy pick them up before he flew out to meet us, AND figure out how to do the work on the only possible day, a Saturday, without a shop…. Brrrr, still makes me shudder.

I did not mention my fears to the co-driver ’cause she’d worry.

As it turned out, the vibration was just wheels out of balance. The fronts were each off by more than an ounce. Onward!

Saturday – Tech
Targa’s organizers arranged for a beautiful facility this year. The building had copious parking and 4 spacious work bays. The inspection process was tremendously more orderly than 2015, and all the cars were cleared by 4 p.m. We were done in the morning, even, and had time to install the special Lucas oil.

Well, the oil itself was just good 0w-40 synthetic. What made it special was that Lucas gave us a dozen liters since we’d entered the Lucas Oil Challenge (more on that later). Our support guy, Larry, and I took the oil, a filter, a copper washer, and a filter wrench to a local service station to get it in the engine. The service station wouldn’t let me use the lift; the best concession I got was to stand nearby while the ‘Technician’ did the work.

It was going reasonably well, even when the tech used a Torx bit on the drain plug (which calls for an Allen bit). But then there was the problem with the counting. The M96 motor holds 8.75 liters with a filter change, and the tech dutifully poured bottle after bottle in, stopping short on the last one. He returned two full bottles and the partial one, and was getting ready to take the car off the lift. But the math wasn’t working out…

Yes, he’d overfilled the engine by a liter: it wanted 8.75l, he put in 9.75l. l pointed out that only 2-point-something bottles were left from the twelve, and he reached the same conclusion after a minute. Then … he ‘removed’ the excess oil by pulling the drain plug, spilling the fresh oil into the catch-pan, ‘til he guessed that a liter’d come out. This quicker than we could stop him.

Support guy Larry was incredulous; I was just looking for the quickest way to escape with the car. I double-checked the drainplug torque, paid the bill, and we skedaddled. So, yeech. But the oil was in the engine.

In a questionable move, the Targa organizers didn’t release the GT Class Target Times & Speeds books before the event. Those books were only handed out at registration. The result was that the GT class navigators had no free evenings for the majority of the event; they spend each night doing time calculations for the upcoming days.

And that brings us to Prologue day. (to be continued)

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