targa_logo2.jpgThe sixth-annual running of the automotive adventure known as the Steelback Targa Newfoundland is underway. More than 70 teams from around the world took the start Sunday at an official ceremony outside The Keg in downtown St. John’s, as fans including hockey legends Phil Esposito and Johnny Bower looked on.

“We’re thrilled to be back in action,” said Robert Giannou, President of Newfoundland International Motorsports, the company that operates the event. “This is one of the premier events in the global motorsports calendar and certainly a highlight for the people of Newfoundland.”

The Steelback Targa Newfoundland is the first and only event of its kind in North America.

Teams will cover more than 2,000 kilometers over the course of six days, on a cross-province adventure that makes stops everywhere from the rocky northern shores of the Kittiwake coast to the rural fishing communities of the Burin Peninsula.

Among the entries are factory-supported teams from marques including BMW Mini, Mazda, Lexus and Subaru. The contest offers manufacturers an opportunity to prove their automotive mettle as well as take in some of the famous Newfoundland hospitality.

“It’s the trip of a lifetime,” veteran Subaru Canada Targa Rally Team driver John Paynter said after completing the day’s Prologue stages near St. John’s. “The people are great all across Canada, but when it comes to Newfoundland, there’s something special.”

Tom Hedderson, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, was on hand Sunday afternoon to usher teams into the contest with a wave of the provincial flag.

“This is an event that allows people to experience what we’re all about here in Newfoundland,” said Hedderson.

The competition is for Targa plates, which every competitor can win. And while there is no prize money for competitors, the event brings an estimated $16 million to the province — in direct and indirect spending.

“Not only does it allow people to see our province, but it also brings a tremendous economic return,” noted Hedderson.

The event also continues its tradition of giving back to the community by means of its renewed partnership with longtime official charity, the Easter Seals of Newfoundland and Labrador. The event has raised over $60,000 for the charity.

Among the drivers to take the start on Sunday was Easter Seals Ambassador Justin Mercer, a teenager who has cerebral palsy. A paraplegic, he drives using hand controls and completed the first stage in a specially adapted Mazda. He said it was a ride of a lifetime.

“It felt wonderful for me,” he said with an enthusiastic grin. “It’s a chance to show the general public that disabled people can do this.”

In addition, the event brings a host of National Hockey League celebrities like Phil Esposito, Eddie Shack, Bill Derlaso and Johnny Bower to Newfoundland for the week-long competition.

Bower said he was in awe of the automotive muscle that he saw crossing the ceremonial starting line in downtown St. John’s on Sunday.

“I’m so amazed by the cars, I’ve never seen something like this in my life,” he said Sunday.

Targa Newfoundland is one of three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world and is listed on the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) international calendar.

The 6th annual running of the event starts and ends in St. John’s. It covers 2,200 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland. The event began with registration and technical inspection in St. John’s (on Saturday, September 8), and concludes back in the city on Friday, September 14, 2007.

On Sunday (September 9), teams completed a pair of preliminary stages — known as Prologue stages — in the communities of Flatrock and Torbay near St. John’s. On Monday, the competition heats up in the North Avalon region.

Competitors have come from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Holland, the Bahamas and the U.K. for the first five editions of Targa Newfoundland, and the 2007 field is equally international. Targa Newfoundland is owned and organized by Newfoundland International Motorsports.

Complete coverage of the event airs on Global TV and the Speed Network in early 2008. The 2008 Targa Newfoundland is set to take place September 13 – September 20.



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