Targa Newfoundland In A Scion FR-S
Bucket List Achievement Unlocked

Being allowed to race on public roads is a pretty rare thing these days. We speed freaks are mostly confined to purpose-built circuits, drag strips, and empty parking lots now, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in the good old days, before lawyers and insurance companies killed the fun, open-road rallies were all the rage, Targa Florio on the Italian island of Sicily being the grand daddy of them all and one of the most important motorcar races in Europe from its inception in 1906 until its demise in 1977 when two spectators were killed.

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The ethos of Targa Florio lives on, though, thanks to three week-long tarmac rallies – Targa Tasmania, Targa New Zealand, and Targa Newfoundland – that have somehow found ways to navigate the countless political and legal challenges associated with temporarily closing public roads so a bunch of yahoos in fast cars can ignore the posted speed limit and drive flat-out. And hopefully not into the woods. Or the ocean, as a certain YouTube-famous Ferrari did a few years ago in Newfoundland. For Peter and I (both former magazine editors) Targa Newfoundland has been on our bucket list for a very long time.

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We’ve been trying for the better part of a decade to find an OEM partner with the stones to provide a car we could modify and race in Newfoundland, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Scion Canada and Scion Racing signed off on our proposal to build a FR-S, allowing us to finally live out our dream of blitzing fishing villages and flying over blind crests at 180km/h.

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Our agreement with Scion was simple: they’d provide a modest travel budget and a hand-me-down chassis that was used in a past FR-S Tuner Challenge program but had been returned to more-or-less stock condition, and we’d do the rest. The rest, as it turned out, included replacing a rollcage that was ill-suited to our needs and upgrading key safety and performance components (seats, harnesses, suspension, brakes, and bolt-on power adders among them) so that we had a reliable and hopefully competitive package for what tuned out to be a far greater test of mechanical and physical endurance than we ever imagined.

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We arrived in Newfoundland in mid September with a relatively untested package, having only made it to two test days prior to shipping the car to this rugged north Atlantic island populated by some of the friendliest folks we’ve ever met. We’d partnered with many of the best names in the performance aftermarket, though, including KW for a set of their Clubsport coilovers, RAYS for a set of their Volk Racing CE28RT wheels, and Yokohama for a set of their extra sticky Advan AD08 R tires, so we were feeling good about our chances of making it to the end of the week in one piece.

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Keep in mind, though, that you don’t show up for the first time to an event like Targa Newfoundland expecting to win. Learning how to properly use the course notes along with a lack of local road knowledge tends to put first-timers at a big disadvantage.

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So we showed up with one goal in mind: get to the finish. In other words, we did not want to be one of those newbie teams that roll in with a shiny new car and immediately stuffs it into a house on Day 1 of a five-day rally. Plus we knew that about 30 per cent of teams don’t actually even make it to the finish, so a ‘slow and steady’ start to the rally was always going to be our best chance of a competitive finish.

Resisting Red Mist
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Day 1 began with me in the driver’s seat. The plan was for me to drive the morning stages and Peter the afternoon stages all week, since we wanted to split driving duties and my motion sickness as a passenger meant it made more sense for me to drive before eating one of the delicious local lunches put on by each town we raced through. Turned out my motion sickness was far less of a problem than my total inability to read the course notes at the right time, but more on that later.

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There was rain on the first stage, which meant the target time we’d need to beat to avoid taking any penalty time would be made easier. Not that we had a clue what the target time was, so we just went for a rip in the rain and hoped for the best.

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At the end of Day 1 we were in for a bit of a wake-up call. We’d taken a 13-second penalty on that first stage and Peter took another 6 seconds on his first stage of the day, despite having been told the target times would be easy to achieve on the first few days of the rally. Clearly our definition of easy wasn’t inline with the organizers, but at least this clued us in to the fact that we needed to write down our start time and finish time on each stage and calculate our total time if we wanted to keep better track of our progress and get a better sense of the pace we’d need to run at.

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Feeling a bit discouraged by our 7th position out of 9 teams in Modern Division, we kept telling ourselves there was a lot of racing to go and that our only goal was to get to the end. But being competitive by nature, we did push a little harder on Day 2, moving up to 5th in class but not without a cost.

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On the last stage of the day, Peter noticed a clunking noise coming from the rear end. I told him the tools or jack strapped in the trunk had probably just come loose and to keep pushing, but then the rear end stepped out hard in a braking zone and we knew something wasn’t right. The clunking was getting worse so we nursed the car across the finish line, miraculously avoiding any penalty time on the stage (target times vary a lot from stage to stage, some being quite easy to clear and others being damn near impossible to clear, so we caught a break by having a mechanical problem on a stage with a rather forgiving target time).

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Once we got a look under the car, the problem was obvious. The bracket that locates the leading mounting point for the rear lower control arm had sheered off the subframe. This was allowing the wheel to toe in and out wildly, which explains why it was trying to swap ends under braking. But as luck would have it, the bracket broke off cleanly enough that we were able, with the help of a local shop, to weld it back to the subframe and further reinforce it for a little added insurance. The bracket on the other side was showing signs of fatigue too, the rust in the stress cracks suggested the problem started before we inherited the car, so we welded it up as well.

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We started Day 3 feeling a bit uneasy about how well the car would hold together the rest of the way, and as if to further test our resolve, the roads were horrendously rough on the first stage of the day (North Harbour), which we ran four times. Typically stages are run in both directions, but because the following stage had to be cancelled, this apocalyptic opening stage was run in and out twice.

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Our subframe repair held up, though, and Peter’s first stage of the day was the amazing Trinity in/out, which was the first of the really tight town stages, this one into the historic village of Trinity, one of the oldest settlements in North America.

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The FR-S proved to be a great fit here, where hairpins and 90-degree lefts and rights in quick succession down narrow alleyways lined by white picket fences made for a surreal racing experience. One small problem, though: Peter forgot to put up his window at the start, so we took a 10-second penalty. Whoops!

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Then the afternoon stages were more of the rough stuff, this time Peter having to tip-toe his way through the minefield of potholes so as not to risk bending a rim or worse. As frustrating as it was to go slow here, when we knew the top teams with their more rally-prepped machines were going flat-out, seeing a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X on its roof during the stage-out run confirmed that our strategy still had merit. But because we played it safe and preserved the car, we dropped back a spot to 6th in class by the end of Day 3. We were feeling kind of down, to be honest, because we went backwards in the order and really didn’t enjoy dodging all those potholes.

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Town stages like Trinity and fast and flowing stages with huge elevation changes and endless ocean views like Boat Harbour have a way of washing away any anxiety about potholes or rules infractions, though. And since team tech Andrew DeLaCour gave the FR-S two thumbs up after a complete nut and bolt check Wednesday night, we decided it was time to man up and push hard.

On The Hunt
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We picked the perfect day to turn up the heat, too, since the Day 4 stages were exactly the sort we’d dreamed of. We’re talking ballsy-fast country roads with tons of elevation changes and warnings about moose potentially being on the course, to town stages where we were chirping the 1st to 2nd shift while blasting through people’s backyards. Despite disturbing the peace in this glorious fashion, the locals in every town we raced through seemed genuinely thrilled to see us. Below is a complete stage run of Peter tearing it up through Trinity Bay North, just to give you a feel for the action in our FR-S fun-machine.

Many other teams appeared to be pushing harder now too, several ending up with bent cars parked deep in the woods, and one of the fastest cars in our class, a Lotus Exige, literally had its engine fall onto its axles. All this carnage and our improved pace meant we were just 34 seconds out of 3rd in class and 6th overall. Incredible what a difference a day can make!

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Day 5 started out a bit slow for us, with what felt like a sub-par drive on my part, but I still took 10-seconds out of the 3rd place team in our class, a MINI Cooper S JCW driven by Targa veteran Doug Mepham.

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I amped up the aggression on the out stage from Hodges Cove, feeling like I hadn’t done enough on the way in, which resulted in a further 19-seconds being cut from the MINI’s hold on 3rd in class. Below is a complete in-car look at the Hodges Cove out stage, which left us just 5 seconds behind that podium finish in the Modern division.

Now it was Pete’s time to shine, and since he’d been killing it all week in the town stages and the rally ended in Brigus, the tightest and most technical of all the town stages, we felt like we were perfectly positioned to finish strong. We had been told that it was very hard to make up any time in Brigus and not to expect too much, but if there was ever a time to throw caution to the wind and just drive like it was your last day on Earth, it was now.

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And really, from the passenger seat, I can say that Pete held absolutely nothing back, banging through the gears and sliding the tail around the countless hairpins with total commitment. Brigus actually felt a bit like a gymkhana course it changes directions so rapidly, and as the navigator I had to just shut up and hold on since I couldn’t read the course notes fast enough.

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The way Targa timing works, you don’t know what your competitors have done until they post the results on the website an hour or two after the stage, so we crossed the finish line for the last time in Brigus not knowing if we’d done enough to leapfrog into 3rd in class or if we’d secured the manufacturer’s cup for Scion.

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After high fiving, chest-bumping and bro-hugging with all the other teams – and there really is a huge sense of accomplishment and relief when you complete every stage at an endurance testing rally like Targa – we jumped back in the FR-S and headed for St. John’s for the ceremonial finish line crossing and some hard-earned celebrations. That’s when we got the call from Team Manager Vinh Pham that we had indeed finished 3rd in class and won the manufacturer’s cup for Scion, along with finishing 6th overall.

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Peter kept his stoic Polish act going, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a little when the news came in. From there it was selfie time with our medals, trophies and plates, and then the harsh reality that life would soon be returning to normal.

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All in all, our week in Newfoundland really couldn’t have gone any better, and as a bucket list adventure it’s absolutely worth the effort to get there. In fact, I now understand why so many teams return year after year, because the roads and the sense of camaraderie as you travel with this racing circus for a week is really like nothing else in the world. Except for Targa Tasmania. Or Targa New Zealand.
Whether you live in the northern hemisphere or southern, you need to put a Targa event on your ‘things to do before I’m too old to go fast’ list. Do it, and do in soon, because who knows how much longer these kinds of open-road rallies will survive. But just in case you need a little added inspiration, here’s a documentary style video on our Targa adventure…

Dave PrattePeter Tarach

Photos by Daniel OlivaresRaulph Saulnier

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29 comments

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1
Speedhunters_Bryn

YES! Good work guys!

2

that's awesome, I grew up in Newfoundland but moved away a year before this event started. Anytime I get the chance to see footage of this event it makes me miss the place, growing up as a kid this type of event would have been mind blowing to experience.

3

Is this really a car or a airplane?

4

I actually followed the whole build on youtube the guys worked really hard and genuinely deserve this feature. Everybody look this car up on youtube, watch the videos and follow their channel they have many other great builds and great tips and other vids.

5

I volunteered as a timing guy in 2012 and I've been around the event for years. It's a unique one for sure. Logistical NIGHTMARE, it's a miracle it still happens.

6

Modified Mag lives on!  I dig your speed.acadamy website as well.

7

What camera was used for the on-board? and any details about how it was mounted would be appreciated :)
Good read as always.

8

That's weird, I've been watering my hedges for over 10 years now and a Lotus has yet to sprout up from them. Looks like you guys had some serious fun on some really great roads. I think a lot of people get lost in the idea of having the most bhp per tonne or the most unique car and forget at the end of the day driving something simple at the Targa rally going balls to the wall is where the real fun is. 

This feature is a true testament to the fact that at the end of the day it's not what you drive, but how it's driven. Really enjoyed the onboard video. A definite must for any real automotive enthusiast out there. Really enjoyed this feature.

9

Ben L

Hi Ben. For the documentary film I used a Canon t2i for the onboard stuff mounted to the roll cage using a Manfrotto 155 double ball joint head with camera platform and super clamp as well as multiple GoPro 3+.

10

Ben L We also have an AiM SmartyCam GP HD in the car, which automatically overlays GPS telemetry on the video (and can be linked to the ECU and Intercom for even more data overlay). Will post a link to some of the AiM footage soon.

11

Sounds like an experience you'll never forget, this is what dreams are made of, well done guys :)

12

The 5th picture on the first page, is that a 4x4 Sapphire RS Cosworth I spot?

13

LukeEVOVIII Yessir, that is Scott Robbins' Cossy. Such a badass machine. I think Scott finished 3rd in Classic division and really came on strong down the stretch too. He did have an interesting encounter with a pine tree on Day 1 that left his Escort slightly "altered", but nothing too serious.

15

Well I congratulate him on an amazing Cossie, and glad the Escorts all good as well

16

Congrats Dave and Peter. Great job, glad you liked it!

17

I'm surprised the rear subframe was messed up !

18

Finally some Targa NL coverage on here. Quite a few Newfoundlanders read this site frequently. Got the chance to drool over this (and others) at the start. Beautiful FRS.

19

JoeDowden Thanks Joe. Such an amazing event. Still blows our minds what a logistics challenge organizing this event must be, and how incredibly welcoming and supportive everyone there is. World class event, for sure.

20

RDS It definitely caught us out too. Upon closer inspection, it looked like stress cracks had already formed prior to Targa. The thing with this car is that it was run extremely hard by the boys at VCMC as part of the 2012-13 Tuner Challenge in a whole bunch of speed events including drifting, time attack and even ice racing, plus they took it to Pikes Peak before returning it to Toyota Canada, where it was eventually passed along to us. So this isn't a failure I think anyone with a FR-S needs to worry about, unless you're going rally racing or something really stressful like that.

21

Lowie_64 Glad you liked the car, Lowie. Peter cooked up the graphics package himself, and those sexy red wheels don't hurt either. We were super impressed by how stable the car was in the high speed stages. We knew it'd be awesome in the tight town stages because the car likes to rotate so much and puts the power down extremely well, but we were unsure of how it would behave at 180-200kph on some of those really epic 20-30km long stages with huge elevation changes and tons of blind crests. Happy to report that the car worked perfectly in these conditions too, so much so that on the first of the long/fast stages we caught and passed two cars that went out in front of us (cars are sent off in 30-second intervals, as I'm sure you know). We passed a BMW M3 through a rough patch of road with no shoulder at all so it was a tight fit that definitely got the adrenaline pumping. We'll have to post the video of that up on YouTube soon.

22

Hmm... I need to modify my Volvo to be competitive in stuff like this. Granted, I live nowhere near any sort of road rally, so it would be pointless, but man would I love to do this.

23

DavidPratte Lowie_64 It was one of the cleanest looking cars I've seen at Targa in a while. I managed to grab a few shots of it down at the harbor front. Not as good as the pictures in this article though!
Between your FRS and the Targa Truck, it brought back interest into Targa. I found after the exotics came down in 2011, the excitement for Targa died down quite a bit.
Then we heard about the truck, and then the clips featuring the build up of the FRS and it got a lot of local car guys interested in it again.
Glad you guys had a fun time, and I'd love to see that clip with the M3!

24

Lowie_64 DavidPratte That's great to hear that our project and Mark's Targa Truck (which was the coolest thing on the grid, for sure!) brought some new excitement to the event for the local car guys. We met a lot of the local guys, some FR-S owners themselves, and it was really great to be able to chat and see the passion for cars that exists on The Rock. I was telling Max Cline Abrahams that you guys need to talk someone rich into building a race track out there, because my god the landscape is so rugged and hilly, it would make for one hell of a race track.

25

DavidPratte Lowie_64 Haha I know Max. He's a great guy, I'd love to get my hands on his Z!
Yeah, a proper race track would be pretty awesome here. We just got a paved oval track here last year, haha. They have a lot of land so maybe they'll have some sort of road course out there at some point.
People generally think that we don't have a rich car community here, but some of the cars here surprise even me from time to time.

26

Lowie_64 DavidPratte I was surprised to see a wide body S2000 in some of Max's pics of a local autocross event. I think it was the Amuse body kit.

27

DavidPratte Lowie_64 Yeah, that's our buddy Ning Nong's. Super cool guy, I love his car!
He's moving back to Thailand and taking the car with him. Going to miss seeing it around.

28

I live in Tasmania and can say from experience how exciting it is to have such a great race run past your house. The sense of excitement it brings to Tassie is fantastic!

29

http://tinyurl.com/dailyjobs04 my Aunty Kaitlyn just got BMW M5 Sedan by work part-time using a laptop.

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