Targa Newfoundland day five: it takes an SRT to do the job.
Targa never fails to surprise us with day-to-day challenges! We knew all week that Hurricane Maria was a possibility, and even though not as powerful as predicted, the deluge from the storm did manage to cancel the Harbour Mille portion of the competition…two very fast flowing stages that the Viper would have enjoyed. Harbour Mille is my favorite village stage, as it typically ends in a small fishing village with a population of barely 50 people. The people there would have remembered us by name, even though they only see us once a year. It was the right call to cancel those stages, as the rain was torrential.
We still had to transit nearly 160 miles in the driving rain, however, fighting winds in excess of 60MPH at times. The Viper's New Pirelli PZeroes did an amazing job of shedding water at posted speeds. I have never driven that far, for so long, in rain that heavy! It was stressful and very wet inside the car as we have no windows…a silly weight-saving move on my part! Jen will talk to me again, some day...
Not all was miserable as the organizers threw in a very cool bonus stop at Vern's Toy Shop -- an incredible collection of classic American cars. There were approximately one hundred perfect restorations inside, with most of them being convertibles from the 'teens through the 1960's. There was even one of my favorites -- a pristine HEMI Orange '69 Dodge Charger Daytona. The owner, Vern Smith, has shown at many prestigious car shows, including Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and Meadowbrook -- even though he is from Newfoundland. All of his cars are on permanent display!
We finally made the next stage when the weather suddenly cleared due to the eye of the storm passing overhead, allowing us to run the 1st leg in semi-dry conditions. This was a very challenging town stage, accented with several acute hairpin turns. One of the touring competitors who had just ran the stage came back to us as we waited in line and said that one of the compression (dips) nearly broke his Porsche SUV in half! Needless to say we tip-toed over that! On those pesky hairpins, most of the purpose-built rally cars use their handbrake to manage the corner. I literally had to make each corner as wide as possible, using full steering lock with a little throttle steering, as the Viper is very wide! It must have been comical for the locals to see! In fact, I could hear them cheering us on through my helmet, while at the same time having a good laugh at our expense. The second run of that very same stage saw the skies open up once again as we were just about to start. We ran that stage with the wipers at full speed, the Viper slithering away, fighting for traction. We literally left the ground on many of the wicked bumps and splashed thru several temporary rivers!
Next, it was on to another stage that has become a favorite of Targa competitors -- the tiny and historical village of Briggis. By now, Jen and I had started referring to these stages as "wing-mirror breakers," as they consist of tiny corridors that are often lined with picket fences! We lost a lot of time here -- so much so that Jen and I adopted a "let's just finish the race" philosophy. The rain became so hard as this point that the organizers converted the last run to a trophy time...that was easy to handle.
As was the case with many of the competitors on Friday, we ended up surviving the hurricane more so than the Targa. In the end, there was virtually no attrition. Our crew was amazing, suffering through the driving rain while still thoroughly checking over every one of our cars at each stop. Rob Pacione and MotoMan did well on Friday, as their SRT8 Challengers made short work of the rain. Rob won his class in Open -- the toughest class, as competitors can bring in any hardware they want. His Challenger, equipped with a Mopar 392 crate motor, did great, defeating a very diverse and experienced field. The team was very emotional, as Rob had competed in six prior Targas searching for a win, albeit in Ford products. I guess it took an SRT to do the job!
Jen and I finished 2nd in the Modern class, ahead of 25 other competitors. We technically led the entire rally overall on Tuesday, Wednesday and for much of Thursday. Tuesday morning's 30 second penalty was dropped.
We also won the Siruis Satellite Radio Manufacturer's Challenge, which is a testament to the robustness of the Chrysler Group product.
So this puts another Targa into the record books, and marks yet another historical experience for Team SRT. Thanks to both the crew at home and here for the amazing support.
Also, thank you to all who helped support our charity. We raised just under $26,000. This will go a long way towards helping the modest foundation that provides support for Newfoundland Families that are coping with Autism.
-Ralph Gilles, signing off from Newfoundland...