targa_logo2.jpgAfter dominating the sixth-annual Steelback Targa Newfoundland from Day 1, veteran competitors Roy Hopkins and Adrienne Hughes earned their first overall win on Friday.

“I’m still a little numb,” said driver Roy Hopkins after crossing the ceremonial finish line in downtown St. John’s. “I don’t know how we did so well. Honestly, some of it was luck.”

The team, from Spencerport, NY, returned to event for a fifth time in 2007, contesting the event in a distinctive sponge-painted Classic division 1969 BMW 2002. Their best previous finish came in 2006, when they finished fifth overall in the same car.

“For us, it was a once in a lifetime experience… and here we are for a fifth time,” said Hughes. “We’ll try and find a way to be back next year.”

Provisional scores early Friday showed the team also chalked up the Classic division win. All scores are considered provisional and will not be made final until Saturday.

Endurance is the key to success at this grueling weeklong contest — the first and only event of its kind in North America. The Steelback Targa Newfoundland is one of only three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world and is listed on the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) international calendar.

In second place overall was the team of Michael MacKenzie and Kirk Alexander in a grumbling 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. “Not bad for an old stock car racer, eh?” said MacKenzie at the finish.

The Dartmouth, NS, driver has competed on tracks for decades, but said the Targa experience is completely different. He arrived just in time to start the contest last Sunday after completing a 200-lap event the night before.

Provisional scores showed veteran driver Jud Buchanan and co-driver Jim Adams, from Ontario, rounding out the overall podium with a third-place finish in their 1967 Acadian Sport Canso.

“Old age and treachery has once again prevailed,” said Adams.

It is the second podium in a row for the team, who earned second place in 2006. Buchanan has been competing at the event since its inception and is a consistent threat for the overall win.

All of the top finishers were in the Classic division, but Modern winners Jeff McKague and Mike Gayowski were never far behind. They took the division win and finished in seventh overall in their factory-supported Mazda RX-8.

“It’s just great – beyond our expectations,” said McKague, who competed in the event in the same car in 2006 and finished 33rd.

In addition to Mazda, Lexus, BMW Mini and Subaru all fielded factory-supported entries. The contest offers manufacturers an opportunity to prove their automotive mettle as well as take in some of the famous Newfoundland hospitality.

Marc Lachapelle and Jean-Francois Drolet’s factory supported Lexus GS 450-Hybrid became the first-ever gas-electric hybrid vehicle to complete the contest. They also took the win in the newly created Hybrid class.

The Grand Touring Unequipped winners were Alan Kearley and Greg Martin in a 2004 Mazda 3 Sport GT, while the Grand Touring Equipped category went to Michael and Cathy Martin in a 2003 Porsche 911.

The all-female crew of Nika Rolczewski and Sandra Lemaitre in the factory-supported 2007 Mazda Speed 3 finished fourth in the Grand Touring Equipped division.

The Subaru Targa Rally Team crew of John and Clarke Paynter wound up in ninth overall in their 2006 Subaru WRX STi, while the 2004 Mini Cooper S piloted by Jim Kenzie and co-driven by Brian Bourbonniere finished 22nd.

After starting in St. John’s with a pair of warm-up stages on Sunday, teams competed from sun-up to sun-down each day this week, returning to the city on Friday. They faced down hours of changeable Newfoundland weather and tough roads, and the drivers, co-drivers – and their competition vehicles – had to fight through escalating fatigue as the event progressed.

“It’s like the Boston Marathon, or the Olympics,” said young driver Nicolas Narini, 19, who crossed the finish line with his 17-year-old brother Massimo to become the youngest crew ever to complete the event. They campaigned a 1992 Subaru Legacy Turbo under their own MaNick at School banner. The young Ontario team pushes a “keep it off the street” message in schools, promoting safe driving and properly sanctioned automotive competition for young people.

But the contest wasn’t kind to every team.

Notable retirements included defending champion Glen Clarke and co-driver Evan Gamblin, who dropped out of contention on Thursday citing engine trouble with their 1979 Porsche 911.

Also out early were mid-week contenders Nick Papayianis and Will Atkinson who crashed hard during Thursday’s Leg 4 after a surprisingly strong start. Unusually, the novice team from Texas had exchanged driving and navigating duties throughout the contest and had climbed to fourth overall, before an off-road excursion put them out of the running. Even so, they pulled their 1988 BMW M3 straight and were able to limp across the finish line on Friday’s final leg to earn a Targa medallion.

Since competition runs rain or shine, weather is always a factor. Rain early in the week posed challenges to many teams and one particularly slick wooden bridge near Adeytown/Deep Bight claimed four teams in a single stage. A Ford Mustang, a BMW M3, a Ford Mustang GT and a Porsche 914 all spun off the road on the same corner. There were no injuries or property damage reported.

Meanwhile, Grand Touring competitors Alan Townsley and David Fuhrman got a face-full of Newfoundland weather as they braved an autumn storm on Wednesday in an open-topped sports car. There were plenty of double-takes as the duo sped along the Kittiwake Coast in their Factory Five Challenge Series Cobra with nothing more between them and the elements than their rain slickers and race helmets. They wound up second in the Grand Touring Unequipped category at the end of the week.

Teams are competing for Targa plates, as well as class and divisional titles. There is no prize money, but all finishers receive a medallion. Entries are divided into categories – the faster-paced Targa category, where teams must achieve ambitious speed targets, and the more moderate Grand Touring division, which rewards precision driving. Teams may also pursue the automotive adventure in the Targa Tour category.

The challenging six-day course took competitors across 2,200 kilometers of some of the toughest tarmac rally roads in Canada. Teams, comprised of a driver and a navigator, fought to achieve increasingly ambitious target times that challenged them to extend themselves, and their cars, to the limit.

Teams ended each night with a car display in a local arena where fans had an opportunity to interact with the teams, and their cars. This year, spectators were also treated to special appearances by NHL stars Phil Esposito, Eddie Shack, Bill Derlago and Johnny Bower. The players are traveling with the event courtesy of Steelback Brewery, the event’s title sponsor.

After leaving St. John’s, the competition traveled to the North Avalon Region for Leg 1 on Monday, the Exploits region for Tuesday’s Leg 2, and the Kittiwake Coast on Wednesday for Leg 3. Thursday’s Leg 4 followed a route along the Burin Peninsula, while the final Leg 5 took place on the Avalon Peninsula, visiting Osprey Trail, Spaniards Bay, Bishops Cove, Upper Island Cove, Brigus, Marysvale, Conception Harbour, Colliers and Torbay en route to its final destination in St. John’s Friday night.

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 Esposito and Bower looked on. Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Tom Hedderson, was on hand to usher teams into the contest with a wave of the provincial flag. The event brings an estimated $16 million to the province — in direct and indirect spending.

The event also continued its tradition this year 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.

Easter Seals Ambassador Justin Mercer, a 17-year-old paraplegic with Cerebral Palsy who drives a car using special hand controls, had the opportunity to drive in the Prologue stages on Sunday, and took part in the heat of the contest on Friday as a demonstration driver in a stage through his hometown of Upper Island Cove. He said it was the ride of a lifetime.

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 was equally international. Targa Newfoundland is owned and organized by Newfoundland International Motorsports.

Full results reflecting Day 5 scores are available through a link on the event website: www.targanewfoundland.com.

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



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