Targa New­found­land ral­lies to race an­other day

New own­er­ship could help en­sure seven-day event con­tin­ues

Toronto Star - - WHEELS -

Targa New­found­land, like the prover­bial Phoenix, ap­pears to have risen from the ashes.

I wrote in Septem­ber that this year’s event had been can­celled due to in­suf­fi­cient en­tries.

Well, “post­poned” was the of­fi­cial word­ing, but frankly, it did not look promis­ing.

There were still plans to run the “Bam­bina,” the week­end­long mini-Targa next sum­mer, and there re­mained a glim­mer of hope that the full deal might go in Septem­ber 2020.

But a re­cent an­nounce­ment has given all Targa fans a light at the end of the tun­nel that we hope won’t be an on­rush­ing freight train.

Scott Vi­dler and Wes Thompson, car freaks from south­west­ern On­tario (and also ded­i­cated Wheels read­ers) had planned to run Targa this year in their gor­geous Volk­swa­gen Golf R, pre­pared (as have been all of my Targa cars) by Frank and Dan Sprongl of Four Star Mo­tor­sports in Ge­orge­town, Ont.

Vi­dler and Thompson were among the many who were griev­ously dis­ap­pointed when the event did not run this year.

Targa New­found­land pres­i­dent Robert Gian­nou’s plan was to hold onto this year’s en­try fees and ap­ply them to next year’s event.

Thompson, who had sold the fam­ily farm­ing sup­ply busi­ness five years ago and had been spend­ing much of his time since mess­ing about with cars, prob­a­bly didn’t get suf­fi­ciently well-off to com­pete in Targa by let­ting other peo­ple hold onto his money in­ter­est-free for a year. So he con­tacted Gian­nou and said, in ef­fect, “Let’s talk.”

He went down to St. John’s and learned more about the event, the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the prov­ince.

At one point, Thompson said — prob­a­bly jok­ingly (I wasn’t there, and no­body who was is talk­ing!) — that maybe he would just have to buy the event to get his money back!

Talks started to take a more se­ri­ous turn, and a deal was struck. The T’s haven’t been dot­ted and the I’s haven’t been crossed, but both par­ties be­lieve the trans­ac­tion will be fi­nal­ized shortly.

I was bound by jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards to ask, “How much?”

They were bound by the law of “it’s none of your busi­ness” and, un­en­cum­bered by the fact the event is op­er­ated by a pri­vate cor­po­ra­tion, both chose not to re­ply.

Gian­nou told me he rec­og­nized that per­haps the time was right for him to step back. He is justly proud of the team he has put to­gether over the years, run­ning a to­tal of 20 events, count­ing both the full Targa and the shorter Bam­bina.

But he re­al­ized he would even­tu­ally have to hand over the reins. He will com­mit to work­ing with the new owner for three years to ease the tran­si­tion. In Wes Thompson, Gian­nou feels he has found some­one with the en­thu­si­asm and the fi­nan­cial where­withal to make it work. He be­lieves Wes and his friend-from-boy­hood Vi­dler have the mar­ket­ing knowl­edge in what should be Targa’s big­gest mar­ket — south­ern On­tario — and the smarts to pull it off.

For his part, Thompson says he is “equally thrilled and ter­ri­fied” to have taken it on. But run­ning in Targa is some­thing he has long wanted to do, and it ap­peared that if he didn’t take it over, the event might not sur­vive.

As owner, Thompson will run in the event, but won’t be able to com­pete for prizes. I’m just as happy about that be­cause their VW would run in the same class as my Nissan Juke NISMO RS Turbo, and I don’t need any more com­pe­ti­tion.

The whole tra­jec­tory of these re­cent events can’t help but re­mind me of the pro­gres­sion of Targa Tas­ma­nia, the grand­daddy of all such events. Doug Mepham and I com­peted in “Tassie” twice, the first time al­most 20 years ago, which pro­vided the spark of in­spi­ra­tion for Targa New­found­land. In fact, those two words “Targa” and “New­found­land” first ap­peared to­gether in print in this very sec­tion.

Targa Tas­ma­nia had been cre­ated by a lo­cal Tas­ma­nian who sold it to a Bri­tish sports man­age­ment com­pany after nine years.

Our first Tassie was also the first one run un­der the new man­age­ment. Many of the lo­cals who had com­peted in pre­vi­ous years were skep­ti­cal as to whether some­one who was not from Tas­ma­nia could pos­si­bly op­er­ate it.

To (slightly mis-)quote a song from the Broad­way mu­si­cal “The Mu­sic Man,” “They didn’t know the ter­ri­tory!”

But the new own­ers brought fresh think­ing and fresh cap­i­tal to the event, and it has gone from strength to strength.

Let’s hope the new owner of Targa New­found­land can du­pli­cate Tassie’s suc­cess.

As I al­ways say, it’s the most fun you can have in a car with your clothes on.

Jim Ken­zie is a Toronto-based writer and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star.

JIM KEN­ZIE FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Colum­nist Jim Ken­zie is pleased he has not raced his Nissan Juke NISMO RS Turbo in Targa New­found­land for the last time.

Jim Ken­zie

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